1 Peter 3:1-7 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- 2when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing- 4but 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. 5For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 7Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Having spent the past several weeks on 1 Peter 3:1-6, which addresses Christian wives, we’re now to 3:7, which addresses Christian husbands.
Before getting to that text and topic, however, I’d like to remind you that that this verse is part of a larger section which goes from 2:13 – 3:12. Peter’s main point in this section is to call Christians, and especially suffering/persecuted Christians, to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” as a means of honoring God in whatever situations in which they might find themselves.
In simplest terms, in these 25 verses, Peter charges his readers (as well as you and I) to respond to the various institutional trials that come their way in light of the gospel rather than in light of anything else (the pursuit of comfort, their “rights,” vengeance, etc.). In other words, Christian, whenever we encounter hardship, Peter calls you and I to ask ourselves not, “how can I get out of this as quickly as possible by whatever means possible?” but “what can I do right now that would most clearly demonstrate the reality and saving power of Jesus’ death on the cross (2:21)?”.
So far Peter has specifically addressed these things to Christian citizens of non-Christian governments, Christian servants of non-Christian masters, and Christian wives of non-Christian husbands. He’s called all of them to look the example of Christ and point to and the saving, sacrificial death of Christ. And he’s given specific instructions to each concerning how they are to do so.
Again, then, in 3:7 Peter turns his attention to Christian husbands, focusing specifically on how they are to honor God within the institution of marriage in spite of the challenging circumstances around them. As you can see, the primary way in which Peter calls Christian husbands to do this is by showing honor to their wives. Men, let’s pray that God would make it clear what this means, give us a love for it, and empower us to carry it out. Let’s also pray that God would fill this church with people praying for the men of God to live this way.
HONOR YOUR WIFE
Christian husbands, once again, the main charge for you and I in this passage is to show honor to our wives as a means of honoring Christ. Consider again Peter’s words, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman…”.
The main question before us, then, is, “What does it mean to show honor to our wives,” or, “What does this look like in real life”. Peter provides help, but men of Grace, be aware of the fact that Peter’s charge here means a good deal more than may be obvious on the surface. I hope that soon becomes clear as we consider the nature, means, and reasoning behind Peter’s command.
The Nature of Honoring
Showing honor to our wives means submitting to our wives. The “likewise” at the beginning of the verse lets us know that Peter is continuing his thought which began back in 2:13 which calls God’s people (as we saw in the introduction) to “be subject to every human institution”. Sin tempts all of us—including husbands—to demand that others submit to us by showing us honor. Peter writes that Christian husbands—along with all of God’s people—are instead to draw attention to the gospel by submitting to our wives by working to show their honor, especially in times of various trials. This is, of course, a different kind of submission than that which Peter calls for in citizens (2:13-17), servants, (2:18-20), and wives (3:1-6), but as we’ll see next week it is similar to the kind he calls for among Christians (3:8-12). Again, the point not to miss is that showing honor to our wives requires a type of submission to them which lays down our pride and selfishness to serve them.
Peter’s command also means that Christian husbands are to show honor (in the ways prescribed by Peter) to their wives, even if their wives are not Christians. This is also indicated by the “likewise”. In each of the previous examples (citizens, servants, and wives), Peter explicitly indicated that he was writing to Christians who were interacting with non-Christians within the different human institutions (government, business, and marriage). Though it is not explicitly stated in v.7, it is likely that Peter has in mind Christian husbands honoring their wives no matter what. Men, if your wife is not a Christian, or is a new or less mature Christian, this charge is as much (and in some ways more) for you. The nature of the honoring called for by Peter is not dependent on the state of our wives’ salvation (even if the ease is).
All of this, of course, means therefore, that we must be clear on what honor is. If we are to show it, we must have a firm grasp on it. In the sense in which Peter uses the term, “showing honor” means esteeming highly; or demonstrating special respect; or acknowledging significant value. Men, if we are to do this we need two things right off the bat.
First, we need to believe that our wives are truly worthy of high esteem, great respect, and significant value. Peter is not charging us to show fake honor. He means us to really see these things, believe these things, and then show these things in our wives. I feel bad for the wives whose husbands (including me at times, unfortunately) do not recognize the honor of their wives.
And that leads to the second things we need if we are to esteem highly, demonstrate respect, and acknowledge significant value in our wives—if we are to show them proper honor. We need to understand that the honor we are to show our wives has been put in them by God. Our wives are honorable not ultimately because of something they did on their own, but because of something that God declared of them: that they have been fashioned in his image. We don’t give our wives honor, therefore—they already have it as God’s image bearers. We merely recognize it and highlight (show) it in the ways prescribed by God. All wives are worthy of being shown honor because all wives are made in the image of God. Peter’s command is for husbands to put that God-given honor on display. This is very similar to Paul’s command for wives to respect their husbands. The respect required of a wife isn’t contingent upon the husband’s respectability. It is contingent upon God’s goodness. Again men, honoring our wives means doing so ultimately because they bear God’s honor.
That’s a lot already, but Peter’s command means more still.
The verb tense of the command means that it is an ongoing action. Husbands aren’t merely to show the honor of their wives once or twice a year (at her birthday and Mother’s Day, perhaps), or even merely on a regular basis. Showing the honor of our wives is to be an ongoing act of joyful obedience. In other words, we are to be continually showing honor to our wives.
Additionally, Peter’s words mean that showing honor to our wives is not optional. It is not merely a good idea; one thing we might do among many possibilities. Honoring our wives is part of the very definition of a husband. Husbands are honor-showers. Just as a tool that cannot spin cannot really be a drill, Peter’s instructions mean that a man who does not show honor to his wife cannot be functioning as a husband.
And finally, it also means (as his instructions, which we’ll look at in a few minutes, make clear) that it is not up to us to determine how to honor our wives. It is God who created our wives, it is God who infused them with a particular kind of honor, and it is God, therefore, who determines what it means to put that honor on display.
The world around us claims that women are honored in certain ways. Many of them, however, are in direct contradiction to God’s word. In fact, much of what Peter calls honor and many of the ways he charges husbands to show it, the world would call dishonor. And that leads us to the next point: the means of showing honor to our wives.
The Means of Honoring
If that’s what it means to honor our wives according to Peter, if that’s its nature, we’re still left with the question of how to actually do it. How are Christian husbands to show the honor God has given our wives? It’s not enough, Peter wrote, to see our wives’ honor. We must also show it.
The main way we do so, according to this passage, is by living with them in an understanding way. That is, we put their God-infused honor on display by living with them “according to knowledge” (which is a more literal translation). To obey Peter’s charge means acquiring all kinds of knowledge about our wives. Peter mentions two specific pieces of knowledge that husbands must have (which we’ll come back to momentarily), but we need to see a bigger picture first.
Men, if we are to esteem God’s image in our wives we must begin with an understanding/knowledge of God. Do you want to excel at honoring your wife (obeying Peter’s command)? If so, you and I must begin not with our wives, but with theology. We will never be able to honor God’s image in our wives better than we understand God’s image. Give yourselves, husbands of Grace, to the word of God if you are to have any hope of obeying this command in maturity. Practically, this means (for example) knowing that God is gentle (under certain circumstances) and therefore joyfully drawing attention to our wife’s gentleness when it shows itself. Likewise, this means knowing that God is compassionate, wise, nurturing, and strong and praising these things in our wives as we witness them. That’s one way to go about showing honor to our wives.
This also means that if we are to truly honor God’s image in our wives we must understand/have knowledge of how God’s image is born in all people, and then in women as women. Before our wives are wives, they are women, and before they are women, they are people created by God. If we are, therefore, to properly show honor to our wives in the particular ways that are unique to them, we must be clear on how God has put his honor in all mankind and females generally. Again, practically this means understanding that God has made women to bear his glory in unique ways as helpers (Genesis 2:18), for instance. We go about “showing honor” to our wives even more appropriately, therefore, by praising her and drawing attention to her in her helping. Our culture might believe that self-focus and independence and explicit sexuality are honorable, but we must constantly remind ourselves that it is God’s word, not pop culture that decides how his creatures are to be properly shown honor.
And then, men, to obey Peter’s command (to show honor to our wives by living with them in an understanding way) means that we must understand/have knowledge of things which are uniquely true of our wives; the specific ways in which God has designed her to bare his image. This can be tricky, but it also has some of the greatest potential both to show honor to God and to our wives. The previous two (understanding God and understanding people/women in general) can be done neatly and tidily, and without actually being married. This third aspect requires a bit more messiness and an actual wife.
Let me give you an example. At one point Gerri was expressing to me the (reasonable) struggle she was having about the fact that I hadn’t taken her out on a date in a while. I acknowledged my failure and apologized. I also made note of the fact that this was a matter of oversight rather than a lack of desire to go on a date. I further suggested that in the future I’d be excited for her to let me know of her desire to go out (rather than wait on me to figure it out on my own). What I didn’t realize at the time is that not having to ask is part of what makes the date special for her. I think most women experience this to some degree, but it is especially important to my wife. For me to live with her in an understanding way, and thus to show her honor, therefore, means me understanding that about her.
Of course this means getting over and past some of our hardwiring (to fixate on tasks rather than people, to expect a kind of directness more common among men, and to value logic above relational connectedness, for instance). God has gifted us differently than our wives, but if we are going to honor them by living with them in an understanding way, we must not expect marriage to be about them knowing and conforming to us exclusively.
If we are to obey this command, then, which we must (for a reason we’ll soon see), we must be students of the Word of God and our wives. Being students of our wives will mean listening to them a lot, watching them carefully, asking good questions, and praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And being students of God’s Word to this end means reading the bible carefully as it speaks to God’s nature and the uniquely feminine ways of glory-bearing.
With that, we need to return to something I alluded to earlier. Peter gives two specific things Christian husbands must understand if we are to show the honor of our wives by living with them in an understanding way (according to knowledge). That is, there are two specific aspects of our wives honor which we must learn to understand: 1) that our wives are weaker vessels (“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…), and 2) that they are heirs with us of the grace of life (“…since they are heirs with you of the grace of life …”),. Without these two pieces of knowledge we cannot properly honor our wives. Let’s consider each of these aspects of our wives’ honor.
First, her honor is, in part, in the fact that she is a weaker vessel. In this context, by “vessel” Peter simply means “body”. In this sense, then, Peter is pointing out the fact that in general men are physically stronger than women and that there is an honor in this weakness that husbands need to esteem. Paul speaks like this in more than one place (including 2 Corinthians 4:7) as well.
Understood this way, it is clear that being a weaker vessel does not mean that women/wives are less valuable. It does not mean that they are less competent. It does not mean that they are less important. It does not mean that they are less strong in other areas. And, as we will see in a minute, it does not mean that they are of lesser status in the kingdom of God.
To show honor to our wives means living with them with this in mind. And that means, often times, being the primary worker and protector and provider. It often means being the one who gets up at night to check out the strange sounds. It often means being the one who gets out in the rain and changes the flat tire. Historically this has meant certain gestures like opening doors and pulling out chairs. Each of these are appropriate expressions of honor to our wives as weaker vessels. However, the point isn’t the particular expressions, but that the honor is expressed in a recognizable way.
What’s more, it means actually praising the beauty uniquely displayed in the relative frailty. Marble statues have one kind of honor and delicate flowers have another. If we fail to see the unique honor of each we will miss out on something grand in God’s creation. Likewise, if we fail to see the unique honor of the weakness of our wives we will miss out on something truly awesome.
Before turning to the second thing we must understand, men. Consider this: the fact that the wife is referred to as the “weaker vessel” means that men and women are both weak vessels. That women are weaker implies that men too are weak. Any man of God knows this full well. God alone possess true strength. God alone is strong. All mankind, by comparison are absolutely puny. To honor our wives we must not only know that they are weaker, but also that we are weak.
The second specific piece of knowledge that husbands must bear in mind if we are to show the honor of our wives by living with them in an understanding way, is the fact that our wives are heirs with us in Christ’s kingdom. That is, as Peter wrote in 1:3-4, our wives, if they are Christian, have been caused along with us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for them.
While there are differences in role between husbands and wives, there are no differences in heavenly status or inheritance. If we are to properly show honor to our wives, this knowledge will be continually at the front of our minds. Whatever differences we may have, this similarity is the lens through which we must look at them all.
On a practical level, we show honor to our wives as co-heirs by eagerly learning from them the things of God, by asking them about how they understand the bible, by asking them to share what it is like for them to commune with God, by asking them how they seek to obey the various commands in the bible, by treating them as the spiritual equals they are, by making sure they have opportunities to use their gifts and bless the home, Church, and world, and by drawing attention to their uniquely God-honoring replies/expressions to each of these things.
The means of showing our wives honor, once again, according to Peter, is to live with our wives in an understanding way (according to knowledge); particularly the knowledge that they are weaker vessels and that they are co-heirs with us in God’s kingdom insofar as they are trusting in Jesus.
This, then, leads to the last thing I want you all to see from this passage: the reason given by Peter for showing honor in this way.
The Reason for Honoring
The nature of the command is esteeming God’s image in our wives. The primary means is living with them in an understanding way. And the reason is “that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Evidently, if we do not show our wives honor in this way, men, our prayers are obstructed; delayed; made more difficult. This is an amazing thought. This is an amazing threat. What could be worse for a Christian than to know that God has closed his ears to them? The very thought that there is anything we might do to cause God to stop listening to us ought to make us tremble.
The severity of the threat simultaneously highlights the importance and seriousness of Peter’s command. God would not threaten such a significant act of discipline for a trivial matter. No such consequence is attached to failing to tuck in one’s shirt in or eating with one’s mouth open. Such discipline is reserved for exceptionally important matters. Men, husbands, do not miss this. Do not think of honoring your wife as a small, inconsequential thing, for God does not think of it as such. We must love what God loves and esteem what God esteems and exalt what God exalts. Peter makes clear the fact that God loves, esteems, and exalts our wives—that is, God gives and shows the honor of our wives—and so must we.
Husbands, have you experienced spiritual dryness? Has God felt distant lately? Has your ministry struggled to bear fruit? Have your prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears? Perhaps, according to this passage, that’s because you are not properly honoring your wife. The consequences of failing to obey this command are that high.
Men, this is an important calling on our lives. The reason I chose to include vs.1-6 on the screen and in the reading is to help you and I see that it is largely our failure to obey v.7 that makes 1-6 necessary. For God’s glory and the good of our wives, let’s be men who are always about the business of showing the God-infused honor of our wives. Let us be part of the chorus of men who rise up and declare the honor of Christ in the honor of our wives. In so doing, Peter wrote, we glorify God and minister to the watching, unbelieving world. Amen.