In the same way: wives and husbands!
Peter wants his readers to praise God because they have been adopted by him as his children – the people of God, set apart to declare his praises to the world! In this life, we are to live reverently and conscious of God and not fighting against authority but doing good – so that those around us might be silenced by their ignorance. We are not citizens of this world but we do live in it. We must continue to shape our thinking by the love and authority of God rather than the love and endeavours of this world.
Now, we live in an environment or age where the word ‘submit’ is a dirty word. We have been raised in the modern Western world to strive for independence, equal opportunity, and everybody’s right to be who they want to be. While this is admirable, we ought to maintain a reverence of God and give him his rightful place to speak into our lives and our culture.
At the very beginning of the Bible we are informed that God created humans in his own image and they were created as male and female. They were both created equal under God and created to partner together. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis 3, they were punished with work becoming hard, childbirth being painful and their relationship with one another no longer travelling smoothly. To the woman, God said, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16). This is a description of conflict as a result of sin entering the world. Because of The Fall, marriages (and human relationships) will be characterised by conflict and struggle because of sin. The book of Peter, as well as the Letter to the Ephesians, promotes a marriage striving for what existed before The Fall.
We turn to some words in scripture which can be hard to swallow in our modern minds. But the bible always commands us to listen and learn before we reach a conclusion. We are also to have the bible critique our culture rather than the other way round. Just as we needed to rethink the word ‘slavery’ in the last passage, we need to be careful how we read the word ‘submit’. And finally, we must remember that our God is a loving and caring God and His commands are wonderful. With this, much longer, context section out of the way, let’s look at what the bible says about husbands and wives.
A Special Note Before Proceeding
The teaching from God on marriage in the bible is wonderful, beautiful and celebrates the church’s relationship with Christ (Ephesians 5:32). Men and women are designed by God to work in unison together. Both for the same purpose of glorifying God in all that they do. Marriages in this world, however, are broken and there can be hurt and damage both outside and inside the church of God. Sin is sin. Peter does teach for wives to submit to husbands and for husbands to be protective of their spouse. A man who has temper issues, anger management issues, insecurities, and the like will only be twisting and distorting the word of God if he thinks a woman should or must remain faithful in a violent and dangerous marriage. A woman living with domestic violence must not be afraid of the word of God at this point. No marriage in this world is perfect and, while many problems can be helped through counseling, households ought to be safe places to live. As we read the word of God, please be aware of sin present in people’s families and promote awareness of domestic violence and a plea for people to seek help if needed. Let us learn to love what the bible teaches on marriage without encouraging people to pretend that their marriages are perfect.
- 1-6 Submission so that you display the purity and reverence of your lives
- 7 Submission so that nothing will hinder your prayers
1-6 Submission so that you display the purity and reverence of your lives
“Wives, in the same way…” See 2:13 and 18. In the light of fearing God reverently and for the Lord’s sake. The motivation for the instruction that follows is our due respect to God. What follows is an instruction to wives – not to men. It is not a man’s duty to enforce the command which follows. If a woman is to take on the instruction to submit, it will be because of her love and reverence toward God and not because of what any man has said. Reading the following verses must be done carefully so that we see the purpose and the expectation.
“…submit yourselves to your own husbands…” Again, this is not something enforced by others onto a woman but they submit of their own will. This is not a directive for women to submit to men in general but specifically in the marriage union. The topic of 1 Peter 2 and 3 are to do with relationship dynamics. Let’s consider some ways of understanding Peter’s instruction here. Since he brings unbelieving husbands quickly into the instruction, is Peter, as Karen H. Jobes argues, instructing women in a pagan society to demonstrate that following Jesus is a peaceful religion? Is Peter, as Herman argues, instructing women to approach their marriages as the culture of the day would expect them to – thus allowing us to allow our modern culture to determine what a marriage relationship looks like? Well, Peter doesn’t address this only to women of unbelieving husbands. Rather, he says that if any of them do not believe. So, submit to your husband even if he is not a believer. It would seem that Peter is encouraging women not to leave their unbelieving husbands but stay. There is no biblical authority for a woman to leave their husband simply because he is not a believer. But, with a life of reverence to God, you may show your husband – without words – how lovely it is to be a believer.
Peter uses the word, submit, in verses 2:13; 2:18; 3:1; 3:5 and 5:5. In chapters 2 and 5, it is clear that the word means to respect the relationship you have and to relate correctly within it. That is, emperors and all human authorities are to be submitted to – live in peace within this relationship. Slaves are to submit to their masters because that is their relationship. Young people are to submit to their elders. Each of them describe a relationship and an instruction to live peacefully in that relationship. One side submits and the other side shows respect. It is unnerving to have the instruction to women directly follow the instruction to slaves and masters. But we must not compare women to slaves. That would be unfair to the purpose of Peter’s message. In a marriage relationship, the wife is to follow and respect her husband. As hard as that may sound, we must remove from our minds any images of repression, violence or mastery over the woman. This is an instruction to the wives to live in harmony in the marriage and it is not an instruction to the husbands to lord over, oppress or violate the partnership of marriage.
“…when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” Peter teaches that a husband can be won over to the Lord without a word. John Calvin rightly adds that the husband must hear the word of the gospel in order to be saved but Peter is directing the wives not to concern themselves with bible-bashing their husbands. Rather, respect them and live in harmony with them. Of course, pure and reverent lives is not an easy target to reach. Sober minds with an active reverence for God is required.
“…beauty…should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” Peter contrasts the effort of adorning the outer body with amazing hair and stunning looks which both will fade and perish, with the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Humility is a word I would include here rather than silent. The woman is not directed to disappear out of site. Quite the opposite, her godly beauty is to shine out and impress her husband.
“…which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Again, the motivation is not to please men or culture but to live in reverence to God. Isaiah 57:15 says “For this is what the high and exalted One says – He who lives forever, whose name is Holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”” And Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you , O mortal, what is good…and what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” Peter does not use his present culture to base his position but the historic people of God. His readers are again given the status of the people of God because they too put their hope in God. This has always been the core and heart of the gospel and what makes for a genuine believer or not – our hope in God. The New Covenant through Jesus does not tear up the old altogether since the Old Covenant always pointed to the new. To know how to behave as a holy woman today, look to the holy women of the scriptures.
“…to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands.” Living in obedience to God – in submission and reverence to God – by submitting according to the relationship a wife has with her husband. God created Eve to be a helper for Adam (Gen 2:18-25). The description of their relationship in Genesis 2 is not of master and slave but of perfect unity and companionship. God is described as ‘helper’ in Exodus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 33:29. Eve is not a lesser creature to Adam nor is any wife to their husband. Peter is not asking women to be lesser people but to enjoy the marriage relationship the way that God designed it to be. A woman who fights against their husband is merely being obedient to the flesh and the outworkings of the curse (Genesis 3:16). Our discomfort with the words of Peter in this chapter are not because of the words of scripture but because of the sin in our hearts.
“…like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord” This is a reference to Genesis 18:12. What is striking is to consider the relationship between Abraham and Sarah and remember that Abraham lead Sarah through foolish decisions and Sarah also directed Abraham to have sex with their servant. Peter is not illustrating Abraham and Sarah as perfect humans nor the very definition of good human marriage but that over their life, they remained husband and wife and Sarah identified Abraham as her lord. This word does not mean Abraham was her god but that he is her leader.
“You are [Sarah’s] daughters if…” Like Paul can declare us to be children of Abraham if we respond to God in faith, Peter says that wives are like Sarah if they do what is right. The people of God, who desire what is of great worth to God (v4), will aim to do what is right. Peter declares that it is right for a woman to remain in good relationship with her husband, whether he is saved or not. Her new freedom in Christ does not allow her to change the created order of marriage.
“…and do not give way to fear.” John Calvin suggests that this is a directive to choose submission and do not fear to be in that position. The verse might then read: Follow Sarah’s example and treat your husband as your head and don’t be afraid to do that. It does not follow that if a man is mistreating his role as head that a woman must remain in submission and be strong under domestic violence – no! Peter immediately addresses the husbands in verse 7 in their particular role in the relationship.
7 Submission so that nothing will hinder your prayers
“Husbands, in the same way…” Again, 2:18 calls us to live our lives on this earth out of reverent fear of God. This is what “in the same way” means. Each time Peter uses this phrase, it is looking back to 2:18. “Husbands, [also out of reverent fear of God], be considerate as you live with your wives…” God is our just judge and giver of grace and the author of life. Let’s align our minds and hearts to live life how He intended.
“…be considerate as you live with your wives…” The husband is not to live with no regard to his wife nor out of any self-seeking manner but to be mindful of his relationship to his wife.
“…and treat them with respect…” I hope we are beginning to get the picture of a relationship between a man and a woman that is not about inequality but about roles in the relationship. The husband is to have full respect for his wife. She is not a lesser creature or a slave or anything disrespectful. Peter’s following words help build the picture of equality in the marriage but not without noting physical differences.
“…as the weaker partner…” The simplest understanding of this phrase is to consider the difference in physical strength between a man and a woman. Of course there are some very strong women and some very weak men but, as a whole, men are stronger. This is seen in the way we organise sport. Does it mean mentally weaker, morally weaker, spiritually weaker? I don’t see how any of those are plausible suggestions. There may be some factors to do with childbearing which add to this description by Peter but that is not made clear at all in the text. The issue at hand could very well be that since a woman is submitting herself to the lead of the man, he is not in the remotest to take that position and exploit it. There is no room in this text for physical or emotional violence. Why does Peter give this one of the reasons for showing respect? Because as one body in marriage, it is God’s design for us to protect and care for the weaker parts (1 Corinthians 12:23).
“…and heirs with you of the gracious gift of life…” If there was any wondering about equality in the marriage it must be seen that God saves both male and females with equal share of grace.
“…so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” What an amazing motivation for the husband! Both the wife and the husband are given the motivation as their relationship with God that counts (3:4, 7). A husband is to live conscious of his relationship and position he plays because he desires to serve God and do what is right. In that, there is no difference between the wife and the husband: both are submitting to God. Our prayers are hindered when our relationship with God is broken. This teaching of Peter aligns perfectly with the two great commandments: to love God and love neighbour. Disobeying the latter affects the former. And the reverse is true too.
There is a created way that God has designed for marriage and it is beautiful and right. Our relationship with God is affected by and reflected in the shape of our marriage. The wife is encouraged to pursue marriage as God intended it without fear. The husband is reminded to live in consideration of his position. Both are to live in reverent fear and submission to God.
- Topic A – Domestic Violence. Can you identify ways that 1 Peter 3:1-7 could be used to excuse domestic violence? Discuss reasons why such a reading is not correct.
- Topic B – Beautiful women. Separately with just the women, discuss the implications of verses 3 and 4.
- Topic C – Godly men. Separately with just the men, discuss the implications of verse 7 and how can you apply this to yourself? Please note that if you are not married, what do you see as universal in these verses?
Prayer of the Week
O God, help us to never hurt and never to grieve one another. We pray for marriages inside the church that they may honour you as men and women love sacrificially. Help us in all of our relationships to live in love as you have shown love to us. Protect holy marriages Lord. May our prayers not be hindered by our disobedience and may our lives shine as servants of your word. Amen.