Good News For Marriages
Passage: 1 Peter 3:1–3:7
From time to time we come upon a passage of scripture that is controversial and this is one of those times.
There are those who regard this passage and others like it, with complete derision and dismiss it as hopelessly antiquated, unenlightened. Even within the church there are many who have cast off this teaching. On the other hand there are elements in the the church that use these passages to justify a kind of male dominance that squashes and suffocates women, that allows the wife no voice in the marriage, that gives the wife no room to exercise her gifts, where her opinion and feelings are not regarded or even wanted. That's not the meaning here at all.
In the previous verses, Peter called all believers to a Christ-like submissive spirit. It is something we all are all to show in all our relationships. We are to submit to every human authority; we are to honor all men. We are to not ONLY be the most loving people on the planet, we are to be the most respectful and honoring of others. Respectful submission is the jewel of Christian character. This precious quality comes forth from Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit he has sent to dwell within each of us. It is a heart attitude that comes down from heaven!
Now in chapter 3, Peter moves on to a different area of life in which our Christ-like quality of submission is to show. Here he addresses wives and husbands each of them given a way in which they show respectful submission.
He starts with wives first then speaks to the husbands. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands”. He is speaking to married women about their relationship to their own husband. He is not calling all women to submit to all men in all situations. He is not telling you to submit to other men's husbands. There is of course a sense in which we all submit ourselves to one another out of the fear of Christ. But this is a specific calling from God for wives to submit to their own husbands.
Peter says, “in the same way”. That obviously refers back to the same humble spirit of deference that Peter has been talking about in the previous verses: “submit yourself for the Lord's sake to every human authority, show proper respect to everyone, servants in reverent fear of God submit to your masters”. It refers back to Christ's submissive spirit that he showed in the things he suffered.
Wives, this is a powerful way you demonstrate Christ-likeness in your home. It is a specific quality which the apostles of Jesus Christ, call forth from wives in each of the New Testament passages in which wives are addressed. Wives, you are called to live out this most precious fruit of the Spirit, towards your own husband. This is a high calling, a special privilege, to express the very spirit of Christ in this way in your home.
This is not the ONLY way you serve God, of course. You love your children. You do things for other families in the church. You serve the Lord with your spiritual gifts. But Peter calls you, as a wife, to respectfully submit to your own husband. This is a ministry God has called you to. And obedience to the Lord in this area gives credibility and strength to all else you do in the name of Jesus.
It seems to me that some wives think of loving their husband as an acceptable alternative for submitting to them. Some wives would say, “I love my husband”, “I will do things for my husband”, I like to be with my husband” but I won't submit to him”. But it seems to me from scripture and experience that the way you best show love to your husband is to show a submissive spirit towards him.
Peter goes on to say “So that if any of them do not believe the word (or do not obey the word), they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your respectful submission to your husband is a special kind of behavior that is powerfully winsome to him. It prompts the very best out of him. It moves him to your side. And more importantly it can move him to God's side. (Not in every case, but as a general principle...)
Your “pure and reverent” behavior towards your husband, makes a compelling argument that Jesus Christ is real and makes a difference in people's lives. It makes a compelling argument for the message of the gospel. It makes a compelling argument that something supernatural has happened in your life! And your husband will be drawn to that.
When Peter says they will be “won without words”, I don't think Peter means that literally wives should never speak a word to their husbands about the gospel. I don't think this means a wife should silently go along with something her husband wants to do that is sinful or illegal or degrading. It doesn't mean the wife should never speak her opinion. The point is that godly behavior is much more powerful than words in winning a husband to salvation or to an obedient life to Christ.
We will address husbands later, but I would say to husbands, that these instructions “to submit and win your unbelieving husband without a word”, are to the wife. They are NOT something for the husband to demand or enforce upon his wife. For husbands to do that would be to violate the entire spirit of what God calls forth from husbands in verse 7!
Women, this inner quality of “reverence” is more important than outward beauty! Verse 3 “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair, and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, 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. For in this way the holy women of the past, who put their hope in God, used to make themselves beautiful.”
God is not against beauty. Ester would never have been used by God to save the Jews during the reign of Xerxes, if she had not been more beautiful than all the young women in 120 provinces of Persia! God gave her that exquisite beauty for his purposes. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was so beautiful that Abraham regarded her beauty as a liability! He greatly feared that other kings would kill him so as to take her for their wife. God is not saying that there is something wrong with human beauty.
And I don't think Peter is intending to say that women should not do anything at all to look attractive outwardly. In some circles this verse has been turned into a very harsh legal code regulating women's makeup, jewelry, etc. The point is that your focus, your obsession, your concern should be with inward beauty.
Calvin said, “... it would be an immoderate strictness wholly to forbid neatness and elegance in clothing. If the material is said to be too sumptuous, (it is) the Lord (who) has created it; and we know that skill in art has proceeded from him. ...Peter did not intend to condemn every sort of ornament, but the evil of vanity...” …..Peter was speaking against excessive elegance, ambition, pride, putting yourself on display.
But..It is a sad distortion of God's values, when women, are completely focused on their nails and hair and makeup and hiding outward blemishes, consumed with shopping for the latest fads in clothing, and then allow their inward state of heart to remain hard, and domineering, and critical, and self-willed.
You should be concerned about the beauty of your spirit! Peter specifically calls for a gentle and quiet spirit, or for a “tranquil heart”. That means … mild or meek, not given to passion or wrath, patient, not proud nor arrogant; quiet, peaceable, not boisterous, not turbulent, not given to strife and contention. There is something so attractive about a woman who is not agitated, and fearful, and fighting for her own way, but RATHER who is secure in God, and who has this inner peace and gentleness that Peter talks about.
He makes two important observations about this inner beauty: First: This kind of beauty is unfading. We all know that the beauty of youth fades away. If you are in your late teens or early twenties, you might as well know it now - you will never look this good again. So give your attention to the kind of beauty that will NOT diminish with time.
Second: This kind of beauty is highly valued by God! It is “of great worth in God's sight”, or I like the NASB here, “which is precious in the sight of God”. Physical beauty is a gift of God, but God really values the beauty of the spirit. When I look at my granddaughters, I appreciate their outer loveliness, but I appreciate the beauty of their sweet spirit and tender heart towards God so much more! God says, that is what I want to see in my daughters! What greater motivation to be gracious and reverent and respectful? Than to know that God appreciates this.
Verse 5 “For in this way the holy women in the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves”. They made themselves beautiful in this way. The point is that you, AS A HOLY WOMAN WHO, PUTS HER HOPE IN GOD, you should be concerned with making yourselves beautiful - with this inner beauty of spirit. How did they do this?...
Verse 5, 6 “They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear”. Being submissive to your own husband has nothing to do with time and culture. It has been a trait of godly women from the beginning and it will be until the end.
“You are her daughters”; that means you are following in the footsteps of Sarah, and godly women like her, if you do what it right. I think when Peter says, “by doing what is right”, he means doing what he calls you to in these verses, “submit to your own husbands”.
“And do not give way to fear”. The one thing that could keep you from this life of inner quietness and gentleness, is fear. Perhaps fear that you won't get what you want in life UNLESS you are controlling and in charge of everything. Fear that if you obey God in submitting to your own husband you will not be fulfilled, or be happy. But by clinging to fears and anxieties you are not protecticing or guarding your life, you are keeping yourself from living in the peace of a life surrendered to God.
So Peter says, give up your fears, “Do not be frightened by any fear”. Put your trust in God. Or to put it another way, “Listen to God more than your fears. Keep turning down the volume on your fears and keep turning up the voice of God”.
Now in verse 7 Peter addresses how husbands are to show this spirit of submission in the home: “Husbands, IN THE SAME WAY, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat her with respect, as the weaker partner, AND as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life...” NASB “You husbands, in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life...” Just as for wives, this phrase “in the same way” refers back to the submissive spirit that Peter has been talking about in the previous verses, and was demonstrated by Christ.
It is interesting that the corelary to the wife's submission is NOT the husbands authority or authoritarian role. There is nothing here that would suggest that the husband is to be bossy, or domineering, or demanding! He is the head of the home, but the Apostles of Christ call husbands to love, to understand to honor.
Husbands are to show this Christ-like quality of submission, but yet in a way that is different from wives. He does not turn the order of the home upside down and say, husbands submit to your wives. But, husbands are to show this spirit of deference by placing themselves UNDER the needs and concerns of their wives. We are to go low enough in spirit and attitude of heart that we honor our wives.
Husbands, to “Live with your wives in an understanding manner”, means you are to know your wife's needs and be considerate of them. You are to understand your wife! This involves careful listening, paying close attention to her concerns, her hopes, her dreams, her needs.
Peter goes on, “treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life..”. NASB puts it, “and show her HONOR as a fellow heir of the grace of life”. The word that is translated honor, means to esteem, respect, or to reverence. It includes the idea of courtesy, and kindness. It also has the idea of considering something valuable or precious. The same word was used to describe the value of a precious stone. Your wife is to be treasured as you would treasure a precious stone.
Two reasons to show her honor: first as the weaker partner or ESV “weaker vessel”. ISV says “a most delicate partner”. Many wives are stronger than their husbands in lot of areas! But are generally physically weaker and most think that is what Peter is referring to here. The point is for husbands to honor their wives, in physical weakness or any kind of limitations. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The husband should treat his wife like an expensive, beautiful, fragile vase, in which is a precious treasure”.
It might help to think just in general how would you treat someone with any kind of limitation or weakness? My mother came to visit us with my older sister this week. It is very rare for her to get out because she is so weak at 94 years old. And when she came we jumped up and patiently helped her out of the car and up the steps, and to a place to sit down. We waited on her like she was the most important person in the house. That is how we are to treat our wives. We are to put ourselves beneath their needs and serve them, out of respect for them in their weakness. Second...
Peter says to honor her because she has received the gift of life just like you have. God saved her just like he saved you. He put his Spirit in her too! She has been raised up and seated in the heavenly places just like you have. There is no honor, no glory, no privilege that you have received in salvation that she has not received too. Treat her with respect because of her position in the kingdom of God!
Instead of disregarding her opinions and brushing off her insights from the Lord, you honor her! You value all that God has done in her life, who she is and all she brings to the relationship. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life.
Then Peter adds this closing warning to us men, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers”. Showing honor and respect to our wives matters to God! God will not allow us to be inconsiderate of our wives, and at the same time, pouring out blessings of heaven upon us in answer to our prayers.
Both husbands and wives may be thinking this morning, “How can I do this? I thought marriage was going to be all this fun stuff, living together seemed like such a dream, I thought it was going to be easy, and now there are so many needs, and issues, and things to take care of. And now Peter tells me to live for my spouse. How do I do this?”
Only one way? And that is to follow in Christ's footsteps AND allow his spirit to flow through your heart to your spouse. In the next verse Peter says this, “Finally, all of you live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” That is the spirit of Christ which we are to allow to flow through us in our homes.
Is this just some ideal that we only TALK about in church? Is this some ideal marriage relationship that only a few can have? Of course not! This is the way we REALLY ARE supposed to live as Christian, husbands and wives. If things are not this way in your home, go after this. Move toward this today. Let God deal with you this morning. Maybe some are led to repentance. Maybe you are single or a young person. You can prepare your heart for this kind of marriage right now so that if God blesses you with a spouse someday, you are ready to do marriage God's way.