Be Subject To Your Husbands (Part 2)

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.

Before getting to the text itself, I’d like to publically thank Kyle for serving us last week by preaching on Psalm 16. He did an excellent job of explaining the text and its implications for us. I was particularly helped by his drawing our attention to the fact that God’s word isn’t merely to be learned, but also to be loved and lived. I was also challenged to consider the reality that sorrow always increases when chasing after other gods, that God is our great reward, and that our hearts can only instruct us rightly when they are set before the Lord. Again, thanks, Kyle.

With that, let’s pray that God would use even a passage like this to draw people and glory to himself.

In case you missed it and because even for those who didn’t it’s been nearly a month since I preached on part one of this sermon, I’d like to take a minute to bring you all up to speed….4 points.

  1. The overall message of Peter’s letter is that the gospel (the good news of salvation accomplished by Jesus on the cross) frees and empowers Christians to suffer differently from non-Christians. That is, the gospel frees and empowers Christians to use their suffering as a means of drawing the attention of the watching world to the sacrificial sufferings of Jesus (rather than to avoid it at all costs and attempt to escape it as quickly as possible by any means possible).
  2. Specifically (within the larger context of our passage for this morning), the gospel frees and empowers Christians to point to the gospel by submitting to the broken (and therefore suffering-causing) human institutions which they are a part of (government, business, marriage, and the Church).
  3. Even more specifically (within the context of the institution of marriage) Peter calls Christian wives to point to the gospel in their broken marriages (even to unbelieving husbands) by continuing to order themselves according to God’s good design for marriage.
  4. And even more specifically still, Peter tells Christian wives that they do this (draw the attention of their disobedient husbands and the watching world to the gospel, and order their marriage according to God’s design) by (1) being subject to their own husbands and (2) by ministering to their sinful husbands through their demeanor and conduct. Several weeks ago (check it out online if you missed it) I addressed the first of these (being subject to their own husbands). This morning I’m going to address the second (ministering to their husbands through their demeanor and conduct).

If you’re a guest here and this sounds like an unusual or controversial topic, I suppose you’re right. In our culture, especially of late, what you’ll hear this morning is certainly an unpopular perspective. You may also be wondering why, of all things the pastor might have preached on, he chose this (and for several weeks at that). The key to understanding both (the perspective you’ll hear and the reason for my preaching on it) is our understanding of the bible. Briefly and simply, we believe whole-heartedly that the bible contains the very words and power of God. It tells us what we need to know and supernaturally works a love for it in all who receive it in faith.

And because of this, the main kind of preaching you’ll hear here is called expositional preaching. Expositional preaching makes the main point and emphasis of a passage of scripture the main point and emphasis of the sermon. In order to understand and explain the main point and emphasis of a passage of the bible, however, requires a careful understanding and explanation of its context (words only have meaning inside of verses and verses only have meaning inside of paragraphs and paragraphs only have meaning inside of chapters and chapters only have meaning inside of whole books and whole books only have meaning inside of the whole story of the bible). In order, therefore, to make sure the context is properly set, expositional preaching tends (as we do here) to move verse by verse through a book of the bible.

To land this plane; why this perspective and why this topic this morning? According to our belief that God works salvation and spiritual growth in his people through the bible, I’m preaching verse by verse through 1 Peter and in so doing we have made it to this particular passage—a passage which we might not feel the need for, and which might buck the current reasoning of our culture, but which we know we need and we know is good and true because God chose to include it in the bible. Again, those are the reasons you’re hearing this message this morning.

One more quick word… Not only is Peter’s charge good and true, it is also the most beautiful way for Christian wives to respond to their husband’s sin. But here’s the problem that so many run into; that is to say, here’s why this type of passage tends not to look true, good, or beautiful: we try to fit it into systems that can’t contain it. It’s only beautiful when we see it in light of the world as it actually exists; as God designed it. But most people around us have entirely rejected God as creator and all of us have good chunks of fallen reasoning still lodged in us from before God began renewing our minds; and, therefore, all of us fail to see the world as it actually is to some degree; and, therefore, all of us fail to appreciate the beauty of this passage to some degree.

Let me give you a quick example. What is a light switch for? “Turning on lights,” you say. Of course. However, as you know, light switches only work inside a certain system. Let me show you what I mean. I have a light switch right here. It looks just like the ones around this room. But it will not work like the ones in this room because it’s not connected to the proper system—to a proper power source and a proper light.

The beauty of this passage is the same way. You cannot try to connect it to a worldly system of thought—where God is not the designer and the aim is not the glory of God and salvation of disobedient husbands, for instance—and expect it to work. This is beautiful, ladies and gentlemen. I submit to you this morning that if it doesn’t seem so, or if causes you to balk in the least, then you need to rethink your system.

With all that (a $1,000,000 second introduction), let’s now get to the text and the beautiful instructions it gives.

It is a good idea, in my estimation, to begin by making clear to whom, specifically, this passage is addressed. Peter’s opening words tell us. This section is addressed to wives (“likewise, wives…”). In one sense, therefore, this passage is addressed to all married women. Peter gets a bit more specific, though. He also addresses a particular kind of wife: the kind whose husbands do not obey God (“…even if some [of your husbands] do not obey the word”). In another sense, then, this passage is directed to wives with disobedient husbands. But we can be a little more specific still. Due to the fact that the phrase “do not obey the word” most likely refers to persistent disobedience/rejection of God’s word, we know that Peter is most specifically speaking to Christian wives who have non-Christian husbands.

So, wives in general, wives of sinners, and Christian wives of non-Christian husbands in particular, Peter has a word for you concerning how you can honor God in your marriage: submit to your husbands (three weeks ago) as a ministry to him and to all who see you (not primarily through your words—although those are important too—but) through your gospel-shaped demeanor and conduct. All of that is what he means by, “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…”.

The verses that follow (2-6) explain how you are to do that. And so, with that then, let’s turn our attention to why and how Peter means Christian wives to subject themselves to their own husbands.

God’s design for marriage, including the prescribed roles for husbands and wives, has as its highest aim a bright, vivid, and accurate projection of the gospel of Jesus. One means of projecting that picture is through the loving, sacrificial leadership of the husband (which images the loving, sacrificial leadership of Jesus to the Church) and the respectful, glad submission of the wife (which images the glad submission of the Church to Jesus).

Of course this happens best and easiest when both the husband and wife understand and accept and love their roles and aim to fulfill them for the sake of the gospel. And yet, in a very real way, as Peter instructs, one partner’s failure to do so does not alter the other’s aim and charge.

While God’s design is for husbands, fully submitted to Jesus, to cherish and understand and honor their wives (as we will see once we get to 3:7), to lead them lovingly and sacrificially for the good of their wives and the glory of God, and for wives to respond naturally and gladly in fruitful subjection—while that is God’s design—both husbands and wives always fall short.

Therefore, in his love for his people God has given instruction both to wives of obedient, godly husbands, and also (as is the case in this text) to wives of disobedient and ungodly ones as well. To both he calls them to “be subject to your own husbands”.

Peter explains his reasoning behind this: “so that they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” In other words, your submission is, at times, a joyful and eager response to your husband’s loving, godly leadership. But at other times it is a ministry to him, in the hope that he would repent and believe in Jesus.

Wives, do you see what this means? Like Christian suffering in general, this means that your first and main aim—whenever you encounter the destructive effects of your husband’s disobedience—is not to do whatever possible to get away from it as quickly as possible. You may, at times, need to do that, but Peter’s words are meant to point you to the fact that that must never be your first and main aim. Instead, he writes, your first and main aim is responding in such a way that makes it most likely that “they may be won” to Jesus.

God calls Christians in general, and wives of unbelieving husbands in particular, to be willing to endure mistreatment and entrust justice to God for the sake of pointing non-Christians to the gospel. This is completely different than the world’s economy and often contrary to our natural inclinations. In the face of injustice and mistreatment, rather than ask ourselves “How can I get out of this now and make my offender pay for what he’s done,” God calls us to ask “what might I do/think/say/feel right now that would most likely draw my offender’s attention to the reality and power of Jesus’ suffering.”

Women of Grace, on behalf of all the sinful husbands out there and all the mistreatment you’ve been forced to endure at our hands, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain we’ve caused. I’m sorry for the suffering you’ve endured at our hands—the hands most given by God to make you flourish. However, as counterintuitive as it sounds, because of Peter’s words here, I’m also eager for you. I’m eager because our disobedience (as evil as it is and in light of the knowledge that God will judge us justly for it) gives you a remarkable opportunity to put the gospel on display. Further, the greater the disobedience of your husband, the more brilliantly your gospel response will stand out, and the greater your opportunity to display the transforming power of the gospel in you, the reality of your love for God’s glory above all things (even your own rights and comfort). None of that excuses a single sin on our part, but it does give you the amazing opportunity to turn our sin to good; and Peter’s most basic message is that, that must be your aim.

Well, all of this leaves us with the question of what this actually means. Not to leave us guessing, Peter offers a good deal of help by describing several aspects of what this type of ministry-minded submission ought to look like in real life.

Wives, I imagine you’ve been thinking about how to put this into action. I also imagine, because so many of you have good theology, that your mind might go to ministering to your husband in his disobedience by sharing the gospel with him. He is disobedient (and perhaps not a Christian), his disobedient behavior hurts you, but rather than snap back, you seek to honor God by sharing with him God’s offer of forgiveness and transformation in Jesus. That certainly makes sense and is consistent with the NT.

However, while no husband (or person) can be won (saved) apart from the words of the gospel, surprisingly perhaps, proclaiming them to your husband in his disobedience is not what Peter calls you to. Peter, here, does not call you to speak at all. Instead, he calls you to focus on your demeanor and conduct; your attitude and actions. Let’s Peter’s instructions once more.

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word [and here’s the application] by the conduct of their wives- [what kind of conduct?] when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 [what does it look like to be respectful and pure] 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.

Over all, wives, in response to your husband’s sinful disobedience, your response is meant to increasingly focus on being respectful and pure. As unnatural as it may feel, when your husband is acting least respectably, you are charged to be most respectful. And when your husband is acting least holy, you are charged to be most pure. Peter does not say that this will be easy or initially natural, but he does make clear the fact that it is right and good and beautiful.

To be respectful in this sense means to show honor to your husband based on the office he holds—an office created and endowed by God with honor regardless of the man who holds it. Ladies, the key here is to understand that the respect God calls you to have for your husband is not dependant on his respectability. For God’s glory, your husband’s salvation, and the gospel’s display, you are charged to be respectful to your husband as an act of respecting God, even when your husband is being decidedly disrespectful.

And to be pure in this sense means to put off your sin in the face of his sin; to resist the temptation to respond to his disobedience with your own, to respond to his reviling with your own, to respond to his selfishness with your own, to respond to his self-idolatrous claims with your own, and to respond to his self-righteousness with your own. In short, it means following the example left by Jesus when he was forced to suffer unjustly.

What’s more, Peter offers a number of practical, God-honoring ways to express respect and purity. Again, each of these practical ways falls under a surprising heading: your adornment (both external and internal). I’m just going to say a few words about each of these, and then I’m going to unpack the first next week and the second in two weeks.

Not external adornment
Believe it or not, wives, Peter’s first batch of instructions to you for highlighting the gospel in your suffering, his first instructions to you for ministering to your husband in his disobedience, his first instructions to you concerning the nature of your conduct and demeanor, his first instructions to you concerning your respectfulness and purity relates to your clothing and appearance.

He specifically mentions three things that Christian wives attempting to win their husbands to Christ are to avoid: 1) Braided hair, 2) Wearing gold, and 3) Putting on clothing. In short, ladies, if you want to honor God and evangelize your husband in his disobedience, be modest. Who saw that coming?

Again, I’m going to spend all next week unpacking what this means and laying out a biblical picture of modesty. This morning, I merely want to say a brief word about Peter’s meaning and reasoning.

Concerning his meaning: in commanding Christian wives to avoid focusing on external adornment (braided hair, excessive jewelry, and fancy clothes), he was not arguing that these things are inherently sinful or that Christian wives should aim to be physically unattractive. Instead, he was arguing that this must not be their focus (as it was with so many around them), especially when the salvation of their husband is in the ballance.

And concerning his reasoning: Peter offers this as his first instruction to wives because he knows that if your husband is to be won to Christ it will be because he is able to observe the power of the gospel in you. That does not come from doing what those without Christ do naturally. Your husband isn’t going to be amazed by God’s reality and transforming power by watching you give yourself to things that those who do not even claim the name of Jesus so easily give themselves to. And that is why he calls wives instead to focus on the internal adornment that can only come from the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

Internal adornment
Wives of sinful, disobedient husbands, don’t try to win your husband by giving yourself to external adornment (even if that’s what he’s asking for); focus on internal adornment; or, what Peter calls the “hidden person of the heart” which is an “imperishable beauty”. The adornment of the body is perishable and to be avoided (at least as Peter means it), but the adornment of the soul is imperishable and should be pursued. Again, kindly, Peter offers several practical ways for Christian wives to do this (which, again, we’ll examine closely in two weeks).

If you want to be respectful and pure, as you’re called to do in the face of your husband’s disobedience, you must focus on developing (and then expressing) a spirit that is gentle and quiet.

Concerning his meaning: A gentle spirit is humble and meek. It is quick to consider your own wrongdoing and slow to react in anger. A quiet spirit is one of peace. It rests in the person, presence, and promises of God regardless of the conflict caused by your husband.

Concerning his reasoning: Once again, the reason why Peter calls wives of disobedient husbands to focus on developing respectful and pure hearts is because they can only come from the work of God in you. Who repeatedly responds to insults with compassion, to selfishness with generosity, to wickedness with forgiveness, to sinful anger with calm, to frightening behavior with confidence, to financial irresponsibility without worry, to threats of divorce with love, and to verbal abuse with kindness? Jesus did, and so will all who are in him, that’s who. Your unbelieving husband cannot see Jesus, but he cannot miss the effect of Jesus in you when you consistently reply to his mistreatment with quiet gentleness.

Wives, the key to living this way, over the course of years perhaps, is 1 Peter 1:3-12. That is, the key to doing this not once or twice, or once in a while, is certain knowledge of who you are in Jesus and what he’s accomplished in you. The critique of a t-baller doesn’t faze a MLBer. The criticism of a mac and cheese maker doesn’t deter a master chef. And the insults of a chop sticks player doesn’t ruffle a concert pianist. Why? Because they are confident in who they are. They recognize that the mistaken judgment lies with their detractor, and so they are entirely free not to respond in kind. Only those who are not confident in their own position feel the need to respond to mistreatment with mistreatment. If you want to see the beauty of Peter’s commands and obey them in joy, focus on your identity in Jesus. Know who you are and know that nothing your husband could ever do will change that one iota. Everything that truly matters has been made eternally certain at the cross, it is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, and being kept in heaven for you, and guarded by God. Thanks be to God. Amen.