Living it out - Part 2 - 1 Peter 3:1-7
Once upon a time there was a man who had a beautiful daughter whom he wanted to marry off, but unfortunately there was no-one eligible in the town. So the father advertised and he found just the man- handsome, rich and kind and to cap it all he'd never lost his temper. So the wedding came and went and the couple left for their honey-moon, the wife on the donkey and the man walking alongside. About a mile down the road the donkey stopped. The wife held her breath to see if the man would lose his temper, but he didn't- he just went coolly up to the donkey, tapped it on the nose and said: 'First time.' And it went on. About a mile down the road, the same thing happened again. The woman held her breath, but the man just went up to the donkey, tapped it on the nose and said: 'Second time,' and the donkey went on its way. However a few miles on the donkey stopped again. 'Surely he'll lose his temper this time,' thought the girl. But no. The man just went up to the donkey, pulled out his revolver and coolly shot it dead. The woman was stupefied and blurted out: 'You can't do that. That's outrageous.' The man walked up to her, tapped her on the nose and said: 'First time.'
Well I wonder what you were thinking as we read from 1 Peter 3 this morning? Often we're tempted to think that this is just another instance of a male chauvinist author having his say and telling women to serve men. We need to ditch such passages as just culturally conditioned nonsense, not fit for the liberated 21st century in which we live. And in one sense I understand that. One thing the feminist movement has done for us is to draw attention to the terrible injustices women have been forced to suffer down the ages at the hands of men. But the danger is that when we are faced with such a passage as this we throw the baby out with the bathwater. In an urge to correct the mistakes of the past, we're actually in danger of missing the beautiful teaching the Bible gives on the roles of men and women and marriage.
You see in actual fact, Peter's teaching is counter cultural, not just today, but in the day in which he wrote. He wasn't just toeing the line of his culture. Women in the first century were looked down upon and in many cultures badly treated. In Greek culture women had little or no rights at all, and Jewish men thanked God daily among other things for the fact that they were not born as women. So we'll see that Peter's teaching is radically counter cultural. He'll tell husbands to be considerate to their wives and to respect them, and we'll see that like Jesus and Paul before him, Peter sees women as equal to men in many ways, though different.
But there is also a flip side which was bubbling up in the Roman empire of Peter's day. Some women's groups were beginning to assert their rights, especially in the cosmopolitan and wealthy city of Rome where Peter was writing. In fact, about 100 years before Peter wrote this letter, a large crowd of women rioted in Rome and threatened the male dominated status quo, and the men's feathers were seriously ruffled. The wind of change was blowing! But again here Peter, like Paul, is counter cultural as he reminds wives that they are equal but different. They must submit themselves to the God ordained structure in marriage which God has created. So Peter treads a delicate but beautiful path between oppression on the one hand and anarchy on the other. And I guess that like today this teaching would have met with a few grumbles from Peter's congregation. Because what Peter urges wives and husbands to do is not to assert their rights but to fulfil their responsibilities.
Now if you remember, Peter was writing to congregations scattered throughout Turkey, and he is urging them, as he says in 2 v 12, 'to live such good lives that though people may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see you good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.' They are to be strangers in the world. They are not in heaven yet, and as God's people they are to reflect His qualities in a hostile world. And in the 21st century we are no different. Society is breaking up all around us, and marriage especially is under great attack. And we Christians, strangers in the world, need to listen to God's voice in the Bible to know how to live so that we can win the world for him. God's standards in marriage are different to the world around us.
Now I don't claim that this teaching is very easy. In fact, as I have studied this passage over the last ten days or so, I have found myself having to repent and asking God to help me to be a godly husband in the light of this scripture. But the question this passage asks of us is this: Whose voice will we listen to? The world's or God's. Often we say we obey the Bible, but sometimes our obedience is just lip service. The test comes when something we find hard is put before us. Who will we listen to then? Well if we are to be Christians who take God seriously, then this morning we will humbly sit under this teaching and ask God to help us obey it. So let's turn to this passage and we'll look at it under two headings:
1) Wives: Be Submissive (Vv 1-6)
2) Husbands: Be Considerate (v 7)
And whilst Peter's teaching differs in length for the two, yet we'll see he pulls no punches for either.
1) Wives: Be Submissive (Vv 1-6)
So first then, Peter says in verse 1: 'Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands.' Now the context is very important here, because Peter says 'in the same way be submissive.' In the same way to what? Well since 2 v 13, Peter has been telling his readers that they are all to submit themselves to different authorities- and this is seen in three ways- people to government, slaves to masters, and wives to husbands. Now he is in no way saying that marriage is like slavery, or saying that women are slaves. Rather he is saying that women are to submit themselves to the headship or authority of their husbands with the same attitude of humble submission that slaves submit to masters. Now there is a huge difference between slavery and marriage in the Bible, the one bad, the other good. But one thing does unite them- and that is the attitude with which believers are to enter them. And the model is Jesus. He too acted submissively according to Peter on the cross. His is the attitude believers are to have. And it's the same for husbands in verse 7. 'In the same way,' he tells husbands, 'be considerate to your wives.' In other words husbands are to have the same humble attitude towards their wives. That Christ like quality is to colour all our relationships. That's why in Ephesians 5 Paul can say to all of us: 'Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.' But that submissiveness is seen in different ways between husband and wife.
a) What does it mean? So what does it mean for a wife to be submissive to her husband? Well for a wife to submit to her husband means to accept and humbly to put herself under the God ordained leadership and headship of her husband. It is a godly, humble attitude which recognises that God has made men and women equal but different. They have different roles whilst being equal in dignity and spiritual worth. And the husband has the God given responsibility to lead his wife in the marriage in a way which pleases God and does not take her for granted as we shall see. The wife in turn is told by Peter to submit to her husband and his headship and leadership.
Now it's worth us pausing here to think what this does not mean. It does not mean that the wife has no independent thought in the marriage and has to bow to him in everything. It does not mean that she is demeaned and belittled as a lesser being. In fact, if you read through Proverbs 31, you find there that the godly wife is an incredible mix between the accomplished business woman and the multi talented housewife who has everything under control. It's no surprise that the writer says that a wife such as this is a rare jewel to be treasured. And it does not mean she is any less precious in God's eyes. In fact, Peter will say just the opposite later on. And it's also worth us noting that submission in the Bible is not a negative quality. To give you just one example, Jesus himself is said to be under the headship of God the Father in 1 Corinthians 11, which is where Paul goes into more detailed about the headship of husband over wife in marriage. In the Trinity itself there is a godly submission of Son to Father, and this is reflected in Christian marriage. So if God the Trinity himself does it, then it cannot be inherently wrong. Rather the husband's headship and the wife's submission is a reflection of the very loving and godly submission of Jesus himself to the Father's headship.
b) Why Should We?
Well if that is what submission is, then why should wives do it? Well Peter gives three reasons.
i) Because Non Christian Husbands may be converted- This comes in verses 1 and 2: 'Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without talk by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.' Now this was clearly a real problem in Peter's day. Often wives would hear the gospel and come to believe in Jesus before their husbands, but their husbands would not follow suit. If it were the other way round, then more often than not the whole household would follow the husband. And it was very likely that some husbands would be very angry about their wives going over to this new cult, and they might even be abusive to their wives, causing them to fear in verse 6. What is a Christian wife to do in this instance? It's a very contemporary problem isn't it? Wives whose husbands don't or won't believe. What's the answer? Peter says the answer is godly, submission. A godly humble attitude is what is required. Husbands may be won over without talk by the behaviour of their wives. If they don't believe the Word, then they may believe without a word. Changed lives are very powerful, and lives can come under no greater scrutiny than in a marriage. So wives of non Christian husbands, work on your godliness. Don't try and nag your husband into the kingdom. I heard of one woman who tried everything to win her husband for Christ- she left books all over the house, she left tracts in the toilet, and on his birthday she even iced a text of scripture on his birthday cake. That will drive some husbands mad. Rather show him by your godly life, by your purity (probably sexual purity or faithfulness) and your reverence, that the Spirit of God is at work in you and this gospel is changing you to be a more godlike person. That is very attractive.
Now Peter doesn't say this is easy. But nor did he say Jesus' walk to the cross was easy. But what did Jesus do? He entrusted himself to him who judges justly, and he committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.' Wives of non Christian husbands. Follow Jesus' example and trust the Heavenly Father. That's what one lady called Monica did. Monica had a husband called Patricius who was a bit of a tiresome husband. She was a Christian, he was not. She didn't try to nag him into the kingdom, but simply lived the Christian life in the hope that he would see something in her and turn to Christ. When she died, her son said of her: 'She endeavoured to win her husband to God, preaching to him by her character, by which she appeared beautiful and admirable unto her husband. She even discreetly endured the wronging of their marriage bed by him. Finally towards the end of his life, she won him for God.' The son of Monica and Patricius was someone called Augustine, one of the greatest church leaders in the history of the Christian faith. And it was partly through his mother's faithfulness to her ungodly husband that Augustine came to faith. By her submissive godliness, she won not only her husband but also her son for Christ. God never promises that husbands will come to Christ like Patricius, but God will reward faithfulness. And for some of us that may mean being faithful in very testing circumstances. So, wives, resolve today to be submissive so that you might win your husbands for Christ.
ii) Because such godliness is very beautiful in God's sight- But there's another reason Peter gives as to why wives should be submissive to their husbands, and that is because this godly attitude is very beautiful in God's eyes. See what Peter says to wives in verse 3: 'Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery 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.' The point Peter is making is that true beauty is not something we can paste onto ourselves, or something we can cultivate with some curling tongs and oil of Ulay. True beauty is something the Spirit of God works in us. A truly beautiful woman is someone who is Christ like, who is gentle and quiet. Interestingly, those two words are used of Jesus in the NT. He is the one described as being gentle and humble in heart. Do you want to look really beautiful. Don't spend hours in front of the mirror. Spend hours in front of God's mirror, the Bible. Covet godliness not labels. That's the way to true beauty. And notice this is something that is unfading. It's the same word Peter uses of our inheritance in chapter 1. Such beauty lasts forever. Our physical looks won't. The wrinkles come, the bags under our eyes get bigger, the complexion gets worse. But I know some very beautiful women who are in their eighties. The physical beauty is fading, but their spiritual beautiful is delightful and growing daily. That's the beauty real women of God should crave. Now Peter is not saying aim for frumpiness. Just grab the first piece of cloth that appears from the wardrobe and sling it on. That's certainly one way to turn off a husband. Nor is Peter against makeup and perms. All he's saying is don't put your trust in earthly beauty. Aim for spiritual beauty. That's the mark of a godly wife.
iii) Because Submission is a Biblical norm- But there is a third reason why wives are to be submissive to their husbands, and that is because it is a Biblical norm. Verse 5: 'For this is the way the women of the past used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.' What Peter is saying here is that this has been the case throughout scripture. This was the way the godly women of the past operated. Sarah is a case in point. She submitted to the leadership of her husband, and did what is right says Peter. Now actually being Abraham's wife was quite a trial sometimes. He tried to fob her off as his sister a couple of times to get himself out of a scrape. She had to trust God and stick by her husband in some very tough times. And sometimes she even stood against him when he did wrong, which is a reminder that God does not ask us to submit when we are asked to sin. But she shows us that submission is a Biblical norm. And this is what God has in mind for wives. They are humbly to submit to their husbands.
So wives be submissive because your non Christians husbands may be converted, because such godliness is very beautiful and because this is the Biblical norm. That's the challenge Peter gives to wives this morning.
2) Husbands: Be Considerate (v 7)
But before we think that husbands have got off lightly, let's turn to verse 7, where Peter says to husbands: 'In the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives.' Husbands are to have the same humble Christ like attitude as they live with their wives. And it is vitally important that whenever we think about husbands and wives that we think of both together. It is a reciprocal relationship. God calls on wives to submit, and husbands to be considerate. And the wonderful thing is that when a husband is fulfilling his side of the bargain, then it is much easier for a wife to fulfil hers. There is all the difference in the world between submitting to a husband who exploits you and submitting to a lover who honours you.
a) What does it mean? So what does it mean to be considerate? Well the way Paul puts it in Ephesians 5 is that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And I think that is a very tall order indeed. We husbands are to love our wives with the same self sacrificial selflessness with which Christ loved the church. And that is at the root of this word considerate. Literally Peter writes that we are to live together with our wives according to knowledge. Now what does he mean by that? Well certainly it will mean living together with our wives according to the knowledge of God. It will mean understanding and putting into practice God's purposes for us in marriage. But also it will mean getting to know our wives better. It will mean spending the time trying to understand and know our wives as well as we possibly can. It will mean putting in the hours in communication and talking honestly with one another. And it will mean sharing ourselves with them, not simply imparting information to them.
A few months before I got married, I decided to do some research on the topic, so I read the book by John Gray 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.' And it was a very helpful book. There are lots of good things in it which helped me to understand how my future wife ticked. And the theory behind the book is simply that men and women are different. And it didn't take me too long before I found this out in practise. For instance, your wife comes home from a busy day at work and tells you a problem she has been dealing with. What does she want you to do? Is it a) Sort out the problem with a series of detailed measures or b) just listen and express concern. I soon realised that b) was often the required response. But it takes time for us husbands to live together with our wives in knowledge. We need to take the responsibility to make time. That is part of what it means to be considerate and loving. Do you love your wife? Show it by your willingness to give her time and space so you can know her better.
But Peter also goes on to say that husbands must treat their wives with respect. So often it is easy for husbands to take their wives for granted. But Peter says, literally, honour them. It means showing them their true worth and appreciation. It is the duty of the husband to make his wife feel the most special, the most loved, the most beautiful person in the world. How often we husbands fall short of that ideal. The sharp word for one little mistake, the criticism in public when the friends are round for dinner, the constant joking about her in front of the children. Is that really giving her honour? No, of course not! It's no wonder some wives feel crushed when husbands do not love their wives as they ought, and all the wife receives is a constant barrage of snide remarks. No, says Peter, be considerate as you live with your wives.
b) Why should we? But why should we be considerate? Peter gives three reasons.
i) Because the wife is the weaker partner- Peter says that we should treat our wives with respect, or honour, as the weaker partner. Now in no way is Peter being disparaging to women here. He is not talking about a woman's intellectual ability, nor her moral character. And I don't think that he is even talking about her physical strength, although generally speaking men are physically stronger. No the only distinction the Bible makes between men and women is in the man's God given headship and responsibility over his wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. In that sense she is the weaker partner. As we have already seen, he has been given by God the role of leading the family as God's head. But in this we husbands should be considerate. Such God given roles are not a licence of abuse or exploitation. Too often men have abused this responsibility. Peter does not tell husbands to keep their wives in submission, or to exercise their headship. No he says be considerate. He must love her as Christ loved the church. The husband must answer to God in this responsibility.
ii) Because the wife is a co heir in salvation- But there is a second reason why the husband must be considerate to his wife and that is because she is a co heir in salvation. Whilst there are different roles in marriage, yet there is a spiritual equality before God. 'Treat your wives with honour, says Peter, as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.' There is no difference when it comes to salvation, between men and women. Do you remember what Paul says in Galatians? 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.' Those old barriers have been broken down in the gospel, and salvation is free for all. And while it doesn't obliterate the essential differences between men and women, it does say that there is no difference when it comes to salvation. We are all sinners and all need saving. And if a husband and wife have been saved through the same gospel, then why, husbands, should we treat our wives in a disparaging manner. If Jesus died for them, what dishonour it brings on his name when we treat them badly. So be considerate to your wives.
iii) Because of the spiritual consequences- But there is a final reason that Peter gives for husbands to be considerate to their wives. We should be considerate because of the spiritual consequences. Peter writes: 'Be considerateso that nothing will hinder your prayers.' It is an unexpected ending to this section. But it makes a lot of sense. Peter doesn't specify whose prayers they are. They may be the joint prayers of the husband and the wife. They may be those of the husband. Either way if there is disharmony in the marriage, then our spiritual lives are bound to suffer. And the interesting thing which our translations do not bring out is that Peter actually writes that our prayers are hindered, as if God himself is blocking our prayers. It reminds us of something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. If you do no forgive, then neither will you be forgiven. If sin enters the relationship, then the spiritual relationship with God is affected as well. That's how seriously the husband's role is. If he neglects his wife, then God will neglect him. And consequently if you are serious about God, then you must be serious about your wife. The two cannot be separated says Peter. So husbands be considerate- because the wife is the weaker partner, because the wife is your co heir, and because of the spiritual consequences.
So what has Peter taught us? He's told wives- be submissive to your husbands. And he's told husbands- be considerate to your wives. Both will involve sacrifice and self giving. And I guess none of us will believe this teaching is easy. But Jesus calls his people not to a life of ease, but a life of sacrifice in following his ways. And it is those ways that Peter has taught us this morning. The question is: Whose voice will we obey? God's or the world's. God give us strength to obey him above all.
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