1 Peter 3:1-6 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- 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing – 4 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. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
For many years our country has viewed the world primarily through a Christian lens. That is not necessarily to say that we were/are a “Christian nation” (that’s a different discussion for a different day), just that most Americans have historically held to a basically Christian understanding of the world (which might mean we were/are a “Christian nation”).
For instance, the idea of work that most Americans have held—that of it being good and vocational and for the betterment of society—is a decidedly Christian concept. Likewise, the general understanding in our country that child abuse and rape and murder are objectively wrong, while integrity and fairness and generosity are objectively right is also Christian. The Christian sexual ethic—sex being reserved for a marriage of one man and one woman—too has been the unquestionable norm from our country’s beginning until relatively recently. And faithfulness in marriage, marriage as the bedrock of family, and husbands and wives playing distinct but complementary roles within the marriage—all Christian in nature—have been the assumed (even if not truly understood) norms for most Americans all along.
At a shockingly rapid clip, however, most of these things have changed and are changing. In fact, in most of these areas hundreds of years of societal perspective and pressure has done a complete 180 degree turn. Work is now seen as a necessary evil, merely for personal provision and fulfillment. Morality is largely viewed as relative and what is absolute is in usually in direct contradiction to the nature of God (the foundation for Christian morality). Almost every form of sexual expression is not only tolerated, but celebrated. And, perhaps, the American world-view flip is nowhere more clearly seen than in the area of marriage where faithfulness in it is now the exception and merely a matter of preference rather than objective good, family is largely detached from marriage, and egalitarianism is celebrated while complementarianism is viewed as demeaning.
Because, therefore, 1) the lens through which most people in our culture view the world has changed dramatically, and (2) marriage in particular has almost completely been redefined in the modern mind, Peter’s charge to wives in 3:1-6 sounds exceedingly awkward to most and outright oppressive to most of the rest. Nevertheless, God’s design for his creation and the institutions within it, is always superior to every alternative and the only way to find genuine fulfillment and joy. Wives, husbands, and I’m especially hopeful that any guests or newer Christians here today will leave having heard that, awkward sounding or not, Peter’s instructions in this passage are a part of an incomparably better, more beautiful story for your life and marriage. Let’s pray that God would help us understand, love, and apply his design to our marriages.
THE LOGIC OF THE PASSAGE
As is always the case in understanding the individual passages of the bible, understanding the logic/flow/context of this counter-cultural passage is vital to truly understanding, appreciating, and applying it. When it comes to a hot topic like this one, however, it is especially important to get the context right. If we are to leave here this morning, not merely willing to reluctantly submit to God’s plan, but eager to embrace it as the most beautiful and satisfying way to order our marriages, we must understand the submission of wives in the flow of the story of the bible. There are nine steps to Peter’s reasoning which culminate in two main charges to wives. Let’s quickly consider each of the first eight (by now familiar) steps before settling in on the ninth.
- In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He assigned purpose and value to everyone and everything in it. As part of his creative work God made people and plants and animals and institutions (including marriage). He made these things good and for the good of his creation. Viewed and used rightly God’s creation would thrive and multiply and bring great joy and satisfaction.
- However, rather quickly God’s people rebelled against God’s commands and order and brought death and destruction and decay upon ourselves. The effects of the rebellion made its way into every corner of creation (including all men and women and, therefore, including all marriages).
- Rather than leave his people in this state of death and destruction and decay, God, in all his glory and grace, made a way for sinners to be reconciled to himself and for creation to be restored.
- That way is through the cross-suffering of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. God’s people gain access to the benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial suffering by placing our faith in Jesus—which is to say, believing in him as Savior and submitting to him as Lord.
- All who place their faith in Jesus are rescued from the everlasting suffering we deserve for our sin, but are simultaneously called to share in Jesus’ earthly sufferings as his followers. This is the result of the continued effects of creation’s rebellion and decay.
- Faithfully enduring this temporary, earthly suffering provides a uniquely powerful way for Christians to honor God and minister to unbelievers. Peter writes that we do so (honor God and minister to unbelievers in our suffering) by drawing attention to the suffering of Jesus by suffering like Jesus.
- Willfully continuing to engage in the good institutions created by God in the good ways given by God even when they’re being misused by others is one particular form our earthly suffering will take and one particular way to honor God and minister to unbelievers. We’ve already considered the human institutions of government and business. This morning we’re going to consider a third, marriage. (In a few weeks we’ll consider the fourth one mentioned by Peter, the church.)
- Within marriage, which are all made more difficult by sin and unbelief, Peter addresses both wives and husbands, beginning with wives.
- Concerning wives Peter addresses two issues of remarkable significance.
- Wives are called by God to be subject to their own husbands.
- Wives are called by God to minister to their husbands through their conduct.
In the end, then, Christian wives, in order to honor God and minister to unbelievers (particularly your husband), when your husband’s disobedience to God causes you to suffer, Peter issues two main charges: 1) continue to be subject to your husbands, and 2) minister to your husbands through your conduct. We’ll consider the first this week and then the second in two weeks (after Easter).
WIVES, BE SUBJECT TO YOUR HUSBANDS
Let’s get back to the text. 3:1 begins with the often challenging words, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” As I mentioned earlier, as we all know, there are few ears today to which this is a sweet sounding command. There have been, tragically, many perverted understandings and applications of this command. And for that reason the recoil many experience at it is understandable.
I have met and counseled wives whose husbands have made reference to this passage having committed adultery, regularly consumed pornography, having been emotionally and spiritually abusive, having displayed consistent uncontrolled bouts of anger, and who have been (on one end) indifferent to the gospel and (on the other end) outright hostile to the gospel.
Add to that the dominating philosophies of our day—which deny the existence of God’s, the authority of the bible, the possibility of equality of value and distinctness of role, and, therefore, any possible goodness to this command—and, again, it’s no wonder many in and out of the Church squirm.
Unfortunately, many people have only ever experienced these kinds of perverted, sinful forms of and perspectives on marital submission. While they are right to be disgusted by them and to reject them, they are not right to equate them with God’s good design.
To any who are unsure of the goodness of Peter’s words, I invite you this morning to consider them freshly in their proper context. Rightly understood and applied, God’s design for marriage—including the submission of wives to their husbands (even, as we will see, when husbands aren’t obeying God)—really is a beautiful gift from God to wives, husbands, and the watching world. To help his readers understand his true meaning and its gracious implications Peter offers three clarifying thoughts.
Two important words
First, there are two words used by Peter in our passage that go a long way to clarify what he meant by “be subject” (indeed, what God intended in his design for marriage).
The first word is “likewise”. The fact that Peter begins this section with the word “likewise” lets his readers know that he’s picking up on the same line of thinking that he began earlier, in 2:13, where he spoke of God’s universal call on every Christian’s life to subject themselves to every human institution.
The “likewise” makes it clear that he isn’t writing of a different kind of subjection or a different reason behind the subjection than that which he’s already written. That is, in a very real way, wives are to have the same attitude and approach toward their husbands as a citizen to her government and an employee to her boss. Of course a wife’s subjection isn’t the same in every way as a citizen or employee, but it is in the most important way (it is to follow Jesus’ example) and highest reason (it is to reflect the gospel).
The gospel-driven implication of a wife’s subjection, according to of 2:21-25 (the passage which qualifies and explains all Christian subjection), is that Peter’s command in 3:1 is not about your value or your husband’s. It is about Jesus. Your subjection isn’t ultimately about your worthiness or your husband’s. It’s about Jesus. Your subjection isn’t ultimately about your comfort or your husbands. It’s about Jesus. Your subjection isn’t about your desires or your husband’s. It’s about Jesus. Your subjection isn’t about your abilities or your husband’s. It’s about Jesus. Your subjection isn’t ultimately about you or your husband. It is about the glory of God in Jesus. And, therefore, the subjection Peter calls you to isn’t ultimately to your husband. It is to Jesus.
Ladies, if your subjection to your husband were based on his superiority or his whims or worthiness, then it wouldn’t be a very beautiful thing at all. After all, the best husband isn’t superior to his wife in value or worth, his most noble whims fall short of God’s glory, and on his best day he is not intrinsically worthy of your subjection. But again, none of those things are the basis of God’s design and Peter’s command.
Instead, your submission to your husband, wives, is beautiful because every time you submit, especially in a bad marriage, it points to Jesus; his trustworthiness, his wisdom, the goodness of his design, and ultimately to his suffering, death and resurrection.
Again, wives, your subjection isn’t beautiful and good because your husband is better than you. It isn’t beautiful and good because it is the path to your highest comfort in this life. And it isn’t beautiful and good because it is easy or natural. Instead, your subjection is beautiful and good because, rightly understood and applied it shows the beauty and goodness of Jesus.
But what of the nature of the subjection? As we just saw, the subjection of 3:1 isn’t for a fundamentally different purpose than the subjection of 2:13 but, as I said, it also isn’t of a fundamentally different kind. And that brings us to Peter’s second clarifying word, “lord”. That Peter praises Sarah’s calling Abraham “lord” gives another important clue as to the nature of the subjection that Peter has in mind. What does this tell us?
Ladies, please hear this, you are really called to really subject yourselves to your husbands. Peter is not speaking metaphorically or symbolically, he is speaking literally. Though many have tried, there is no way to remain faithful to the bible’s teaching and soften or skirt the meaning of this passage (or the many other biblical passages that teach the same thing). God has placed your husband in authority over you. That authority and subjection are part of the very definition of marriage and essential to displaying the gospel (the ultimate purpose of your marriage).
Paul teaches the same thing in even clearer language.
Ephesians 5:22-24 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Titus 2:3-5 Older women … are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and … 5 to be … submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Again, to make sure this is clear to his readers Peter highlights the fact that the type of subjection he has in mind is the kind that sees one’s husband as “lord” (3:6).
If you can’t imagine calling your husband, “lord” (with a straight face) you do not understand Peter’s command and you are missing out on the opportunity to more fully honor God and minister to those around you. The fact that this is almost unimaginable to most (all?) wives in this room is a testimony to how thoroughly sin has corrupted creation.
Now in good and godly marriages the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the Church. He constantly looks for ways to bless her and serve her. He’s willing to lay his life down for her. He seeks and values her counsel and is eager to heed it. The vast majority of the time good and godly husbands and wives agree on the matter at hand because both are submitted to Jesus. In marriages like these, there is rarely a need for the husband to demand that his wife subject herself to his will against her own. In fact, this happening with any frequency is one certain sign of a significant lack of health in a marriage.
And yet, none of that changes the reality of Peter’s charge. Even in the best marriages God’s design for marriage is a disposition of the wife willingly and joyfully placing herself under her husband’s authority as a means of imaging forth the Church’s willing and joyful submission to Christ.
“Likewise” and “lord”. “Likewise” indicates that a wife’s subjection to her husband is of the same kind and purpose as a citizen to her government and an employee to her boss. “Lord” indicates that the subjection is real and robust.
To your own husbands
The second clarifying thought that Peter shares concerning a wife’s submission is that it is to her own husband. The bible does not teach that all women are to subject themselves to all men. It teaches that one woman (the wife) is to subject herself to one man (her husband).
Similarly, the bible does not teach that women are to subject themselves to men in every area, but only in those prescribed by God. In fact, the only area that God calls women to subject themselves to men (as women) is in marriage. Women are to subject themselves to elders, governors, bosses, and other Christians, but not because they are women; for men are called to subject ourselves to these authorities as well (as Peter makes clear).
Some in the past and present have tried to twist God’s word in this area, but Peter’s words are simple, clear, and direct. A wife, as a woman, is to submit exclusively to her own husband.
So that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won by the conduct of their wives
Finally, the third clarifying thought that Peter gives relates to unbelieving husbands.
As a means of honoring God and ministering to others, wives are called by God to be subject to their own husbands. While this sounds vile to many modern ears, properly understood it really is a beautiful thing because it is God’s design.
And yet, as everyone knows, this is challenging, at times, even in the healthiest, most godly, most spiritually mature marriages. Most of us don’t have those marriages. Most husbands aren’t loving their wives as Christ loves the church. Most husbands are prone, occasionally, to selfishness and sin. What are wives to do in those situations and marriages? Surely this isn’t a command for them, is it?
Peter’s words leave no room for doubt. “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.” In fact, while other passages in the bible speak to subjection within Christian marriages, Peter is speaking to women married to non-Christian husbands.
All of this leaves us with a very important question: what does all of this look like in real life—especially in the real lives of wives whose husbands do not believe? That’s where Peter turns next and, therefore, after Easter that’s where we’ll turn as well.
We grieve with all of you wives who are in hard situations due to the fact that your husband does not obey the word of God. However, we rejoice with all of you as well because Peter’s message, as well see in two weeks, is that even though your road is more difficult, your ability to project the gospel is amplified because of it.
Let’s close with Peter’s gospel-grounding words for the high and noble calling of Christian wives to subject themselves to their own husbands, even unbelieving ones.
1 Peter 2:21-24 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.