Download or stream the audio with the link below.
- 1 Peter 3:1 - 7
Expert or novice
How much do you know about marriage? Do you consider yourself an expert on the topic, a novice, a student or something else? This is not just a question to ask people who are married but also people who are not married. Because the Bible addresses marriage and all Scripture is profitable for all of us whether we are married or not.
So how much do you know about marriage? And if you feel like you don’t know a whole lot, where would you go to learn more about it? Family matters, a Marriage Therapist, Wikipedia?
A creation of God
Those things might help. But marriage is really a creation of God, a design of God meant to reflect the covenantal relationship that Jesus has with His bride, the church. The Word of God is the highest and best and clearest authority on the topic. So we all come as students eager to be taught by the Creator God about His creation called marriage.
Marriage and Church life
I Peter is not a book about marriage. It is a letter written to churches. It addresses church life, community life. Specifically here and at the end of chapter 2, it addresses people in society who were the given the least rights, had the least sway, and held the least influence. At the end of chapter 2, it was slaves and now in chapter 3, it is wives. The fact that Peter gives 6 verses of his letter to wives and only 1 to husband tells us that women and specifically wives mattered immensely in the church community. These are not 6 verses about what a man should tell his husband. These are instead God-breathed words for wives back then and for wives today.
Gospel breaking out
The Bible can be seen sometimes as archaic and old-fashioned and behind the times. And these 6 verses make the opposite point. In this culture a woman was expected to adopt the religion of her husband, have the same circle of friends and keep lock in step with the man of the house.
However the gospel was breaking out all over the world and the message was finding it’s way into people’s ears and people were getting saved. This was a great thing! And it required some teaching on how to live as a saved wife and as a saved husband. In some ways it was perhaps a bit more complicated for a wife then it was for a husband, especially if the wife’s husband was not a believer. So Peter wants to guide wives and guide husbands into God’s good plan for their particular marriage.
To the wives
So let’s start with the wives and then we will move on to the husbands. Verse 1, “Likewise, wives be subject to your own husbands…..” Before anyone bolts for the door or elbows start flying, let’s take a closer look at this. First of all, Peter does not say, “men, tell your wives to be subject to you.” This is a direct instruction to women, meaning that this is voluntary subjection. This is not cohersion, manipulation or threat based. Wives have the choice to do this or not and a husband will not make that decision for her. She is free to decide what she wants to do with this command.
Second, the word subjection does not mean a difference in essence or quality. It means rather a difference in function. And it is rooted in the Trinity. God the Father sent God the Son. God the Son is subjected to the will of the Father. The Father is the Head of the Son. This is what I Corinthians 11:3 states plainly, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” And yet, Colossians 1 says that Christ is the image of the invisible God, the exact imprint of His nature. And in John 17:11, Jesus says that He and the Father are one.
This is Christian doctrine. God the Father and God the Son are equally God. One is not less God and one is not more God and yet one is subject to the other. How is that possible? It can only be possible if Jesus freely subordinates Himself to the Father even though they are co-equal in essence and divinity.
The first thing we think about when we hear subjection is usually lack of equality, lack of sameness, lack of oneness. And God the Father and God the Son prove the opposite.
What it means
So what does it mean to be subject? I will take my best guess. To be subject is to show deference to and to respect your husband’s thoughts and opinions. It is to be for him, not against him. It is to be a cheerleader instead of critic in the crowd. (And we will see in a minute that this goes for how the husband treats His wife as well). It is not to turn off your brain and say, “whatever you say boss.” It is to turn on your brain and use all your powers of reasoning and wisdom and concern to help your man along the way, because He needs it. Subjection in its best form will feel more like a dance than a game of tug of war. The man leads with skill, the woman responds with equal or perhaps greater skill.
No love songs about this
Just as somewhat of a side note, most single men do not want to get married so that they can find someone who will be subjected to him. There are no love songs about finding that person who will do all I say and ask. If a man has any clue about himself, he knows he needs an equal, not a subordinate. Adam got so excited in the garden not because he found someone to subject herself to him but because he found his equal. ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This is old school love poetry in its purest and truest form. Men desire an equal. And that is what a wife is.
And that is what makes the whole fairy tale that much more amazing. Because this co-equal person, made in the image of God, so different and so alike, is saying, “Lead me, not because I can’t do it myself. But because I have chosen to join my will and my life with yours.”
Third thing to look at in verse 1 is that this subjection is to a wife’s own husband not to all men in general. That would be an enormous stretch and bad teaching to say that wives should be subjected to husbands. No, instead a wife should be subjected to her own husband. This means that her husband’s voice is number 1 in authority and influence.
She is not subjecting herself to anyone but the one her heart is joined to, her covenant partner. Together they work through the complexities of life, child-raising, extended family relationships, friendships, financial stuff. Peter is saying that within that marital bond, there is to be honor, respect, deference, humble leadership and subjection. These things are pleasing to God.
This seems all well and good for a Christian couple but what about a situation where the wife is a believer but the husband is not. Do you throw out all this subjection stuff? No, Peter says. Instead, this voluntary, non-coerced, freely decided subjection may actually win over a husband who does not yet obey the Word. Respectful and pure conduct may actually win her husband over to the faith. This has actually happened and some of you have either seen it happen or been a part of it happening in your own marriage.
The idea is that a believing wife preaches to her husband the gospel not by speaking it but by living it. And through continual exposure to the unspoken gospel, the walls of resistance can come tumbling down.
This is a difficult thing to do at any time but in the 1st century it may have even been more difficult. Because when a wife went to a church service, she was an equal member in the family of God, a saint, a priest, as close to God as anyone else in the room. But then she had to go home and be absorbed back into the culture that expected women to adhere to her husband’s religion. She may have wanted to resist the confinements that she felt and Peter is saying, keep the peace, stay subject and preach with your life.
Peter goes on to address a woman’s beauty in verse 3, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear….” This verse has been used to create all kinds of rules for how a Christian woman should dress. And that is not at all what this is. This isn’t a teaching on whether or not to wear a gold necklace or braid the hair. It’s not a list of no no’s because clothes are on the list! This is actually teaching women how to think about what they wear, not teaching them what to wear. He is saying, “do not think of beauty as external. Do not think, I need to wear this so that I will be beautiful. Beauty actually comes from within and is reflected externally.
So instead, Peter says, “……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 hidden person of the heart is your true self, who you really are. And who you really are cannot be covered up or disguised. It will show itself. A woman who trust in Jesus as her righteousness has imperishable beauty. She has in her the beauties of Christ, the sinless One. She is one with the Lord Jesus. Her beauty is given to her, not self-determined. And this gives her a gentle and quiet spirit because she is content with having the beauty of God.
Working out the details
This doesn’t mean she won’t wear jewelry (every year around Christmas time I go make sure my wife has some new jewelry!). It means that jewelry and other adornments are meant to reflect in some small way the beauties of Jesus Christ. What and how much and when these things are worn are questions worked out within the covenant relationship between the man and the wife. This is a brilliant example of how the Bible is not specific where it doesn’t need to be. The principles are given so that the specifics can be worked out in each marriage, in each culture, at each time in the history of the world.
To give some tangible examples of how wives in the 1st century were to live, Peter goes back several hundred years. “…..for this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.” And so a part of a wife adorning herself is by submitting or purposefully, voluntarily subjecting herself, freely to her husband. Don’t forget to put that on, Peter says. This is what the holy women used to do. The holy women were those who had been set apart for a purpose. These were women who hoped in God, not hoped in their husbands per se, but trusted in and hoped in their God.
A Christ following wife does not put her hope in her husband as though he is a flawless human being. She instead affirms her imperfect husband and pushes him to be more like Christ, while fully trusting in Christ. Her hope is in her God and her respect and encouragement is toward her husband.
This is what Sarah did, Peter says, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham calling him Lord.” The only time we see Sarah calling Abraham Lord is in Genesis 18:12 and it is shortly after Abraham had been told of their coming pregnancy. It says, “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” Now Sarah did call Abraham old but she called him Lord before she called him old so I guess it counts!
This is actually really fascinating because it gives us a window into Sarah’s heart. She called Abraham Lord when he could not hear her call him lord. She said it to herself. That tells us that Sarah in her heart of hearts had deep respect for Abraham even though Abraham was a flawed person. She subjected herself to him willingly even when he wasn’t around to make sure that she was.
Abiding respect and honor
And that is perhaps the most obvious test of a woman’s respect for her man and a man’s honoring of his lady. Do the respect and honor come and go depending on whether or not the person is around. Or do they remain at all times? No one has perfect respect or perfect honor for each other but when a wife and a husband have put their hope in God, these things come a bit more natural.
You are her children, Peter tells wives, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. I love the gritty, fearless description of wives here. She is holy. She is willingly, voluntarily submissive. Her hope is in God. She has deep inner beauty that leads to confidence and gentleness. And she does not even fear things that are frightening. Wow! This description of a Christian wife eliminates any idea that a wife should be robotic, passive, go with the flow or be anything less than her true self. A Christian wife is not asked to diminish herself so that her husband can flourish. She is asked to explore and develop these incredible qualities so that they can both flourish together.
Now on to the man. Husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way. If you have ever said to your wife, “I just don’t get you or understand you. How can you think like that?” Then it’s time to try again. The command to live in an understanding way is not a one and done command. It is ongoing. The idea is continue to be understanding, continue to be tender toward her, continue to do what pleases her. You will never fully understand her and that is okay. And so you can live in an understanding way without understanding her perfectly. This allows for marriage to remain a bit of mystery. The two become one but the distinct personalities and quirks and particularities remain. And that is a good thing.
He goes on, “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life….” The weaker vessel here is not a derogatory statement. It is an empowering statement. He is not saying that women are weaker intellectually or spiritually or emotionally or psychologically. Because that would not be true. However, men and women are created in such a way that men are prone to use their strength to dominate and subject women. To be weaker is not to be less than, it is to be more susceptible to the misuse of power. And Peter is telling husbands to show honor even in a culture that did not show allot of honor. He is raising the bar.
So perhaps a misuse of power would not get a man thrown in jail but it would offend God. Because God cares about what is happening in each marriage. Peter is creating a brand new standard not in society but in the redeemed community of God. The church is a place where husbands honor their wives.
Paul adds to it and says, that husbands are to reflect to the world what Jesus did for the church. Jesus was not on a power trip. He did not come to be served but to serve. He came to lay down His life as a ransom for many. And Jesus is our standard. With Jesus as the standard for husbands, there is no room for giant egos and the misuse of power. Those things are replaced with humility, self-sacrifice and a desire to please the other. And when that is reciprocated by the wife, a marriage turns into a pretty happy dance even for couples that can’t move their feet all that well.
The command for a husband to honor his wife is rooted in common identity. “They are heirs with you of the grace of life.” A man and wife are equally spiritual, equally saved, equally children of God. There is no distinction. So a husband’s goal is to treat his wife as she actually is, a co-heir of the coming kingdom, an inheritor of the new heavens and the new earth. We will hold hands to glory and then together we will be joined to Jesus the Savior of His eternal bride.
By putting our eyes toward eternity, Peter is reminding husbands, “this is royalty. God sent Jesus to die for this woman you are wed-locked with. He loved her with an everlasting love and is in His own covenant with her. So treat her as she actually is. Let her pick the restaurant if she wants but step up and be ready if she throws the decision over to you.” Doing this will keep prayers from being hindered and fill a man with confidence he never knew he could have.
A Christian marriage in its best form is an arrow. It points people to the self-denying joy-filled love of Jesus and the willing submission of his bride the church. Husbands love like Jesus. Wives submit like the church. That is marriage in its best form. However, no marriage does this perfectly. (To state the obvious). But that is not the goal. The goal is to understand and be changed by the love of Jesus Christ, to become more like Him.
The tax collector
There is a story in Luke 18 that Jesus tells of a Pharisee and a tax collector. It goes like this. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ This is the epitome of a self-righteous, better than thou person. 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Jesus then says, 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Made holy by God
This is a picture not just of salvation but of a what a Christian life and marriage should look like. We are not made holy by thinking we are something we are not. We are made holy by calling out to the only One Who can make us holy, the Almighty and holy God. This is what makes marriage work, total dependence on the undeserved grace of God experienced through the work of Christ. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So let’s stay humble, stay grateful and keep-loving Jesus together. Let’s pray.