God’s Grace & Submission, part 3

Peter continues to discuss the domestic issues which Christianity would have raised in the home, this time dealing with family relationships between husbands & wives. How should the wife conduct herself as a Christian toward her husband? How should the husband conduct himself as a Christian toward his wife? These questions were especially relevant if only one member of the marriage had been won to Christ. The reason for the disparity in length to each group (6 verses for wives, 1 verse for men) was because of the difficulty placed upon women in the ancient world if they became a Christian but their husband did not.

Submission to Spouses (3.1-7)

Husbands & wives have mutual obligation to live graciously with one another by submission & understanding.

1Likewise, 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,

Likewise, wives: In a similar way as Christians were to be subject to the governing authorities and slaves were to be subject to their masters, wives are called to submission to their husbands.

Be subject…husbands: or submitting yourselves. This is voluntary submission, the wife yielding to her own husbands lead. Peter will use the example of Sarah to Abraham to illustrate this (v.5-6).

So that…their wives: Here is the purpose for submission. Some of the husbands has not obeyed the word, i.e. the gospel. So they were not Christians. But though their ears were closed to the gospel, their eyes could see the gracious conduct of their wife’s lovely life. By her pure conduct (and the pure conduct of all Christian women), her husband may be won to the kingdom of Christ.

Egalitarianism – the doctrine that men & women are the same – has taken hold in many churches & corners of society. Egalitarians seek to eliminate male spiritual leadership in home, church, & society at large. They argue that Peter’s advice here (and Paul’s advice elsewhere) was good for their time & culture, however it simply does not apply to us. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If it is the case that a wife no longer needs to be submissive, then surely it is the case that a husband need not honor his wife as an heir of God’s grace. This simply is not the case. The Holy Spirit, through Peter, still calls for Christian wives to be submissive to the leadership role of the husband.

2when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

When they see…conduct: Respectful (Gk phobo) is literally fear, but is not terror or dread; rather, it is reverence or holy respect. The object of this respect is debated as either the husband or God, though both can be in view here. Pure speaks to freedom from moral defilement & indicates that submission does not mean venturing into conduct outside the will of God.

Notice that submission is “respectable & pure conduct.” Thus, failure to submit or a refusal to submit must be disrespectful & impure conduct. Therefore, the egalitarian movement, with their push to erase gender borders, is advocating for behavior which is disrespectful & impure.

3Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—

Do not…external: “The focus is now on the wife’s beauty, which consists not in external, visible things which perish but in unseen spiritual realities which are eternal” (Grudem 139). Peter may have in mind Isaiah 3.16-23. See also 1 Timothy 2.9-10. True beauty is not garbed in finery.

“Women are in general at as much pains and cost in their dress, as if by it they were to be recommended both to God and man. It is, however, in every case, the argument either of a shallow mind, or of a vain and corrupted heart.” (Clarke)

The braiding…clothing you wear: Braiding of hair (or “well-set hair,” Isa 3.24) were hair styles which were intricate & elaborate ways of fixing one’s hair for attracting attention & admiration. Putting on gold jewelry (the bracelets, armlets, amulets, signet rings, & nose rings of Isa 3.19-21) may also have to do with the hair; in antiquity, gold plates were sometimes added, interwoven into the hair. The clothing you wear is akin to Paul’s “expensive clothes” in 1 Timothy 2.9.

True beauty is not garbed in finery…nor is holiness. The beauty of holiness is not seen in externals. Where does the notion that dressing-up is synonymous with holiness come from? “The Lord will take away the finery,” says Isaiah (3.19). In his day, Alexander Campbell bemoaned the fact that Christians wore “finery” when coming into the presence of holy God. In “Worshipping Assemblies – No. 1,” Campbell writes, “To see worshippers appear in church as at a marriage feast, a presidential levee, a theater, a dance – either in dress, manners, or general demeanor – strikes all persons of reflection as snow in summer, or a plaudit [i.e. applause] in the midst of a prayer…we frequent the houses of prayer and the places of worship with all our ‘finery’ upon us, as though our synagogues were theatres of fashion – and the ‘Ladies’ Book,’ rather than the New Testament, was the guide of our devotions.” It is NOT about clothing, brethren. That is Peter’s point in these verses: It is about the inward hidden person of the heart. Always has been.

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.

But let…the heart: But (Gk alla) draws a sharp contrast—not that but this. “The adornment God desires is not external but internal” (NAC). The hidden person of the heart is Paul’s inner being (Romans 7.22; Ephesians 3.16). It is the “true personality…revealed through words and actions which reflect inner attitudes” (Grudem 140). It is godly character which God wants.

With…quiet spirit: This inner beauty is imperishable, that is, it is not subject to fading away & decaying, unlike the perishable things (see 1.18). The gentle and quiet spirit is Christ-like; it does not insist on its own way and is content with a peaceful existence. Attempting to find beauty in physical outward adornment is fleeting & futile. However, heavenly beauty discovered in a gentle and quiet spirit is eternal.

Quietness is a typical admonishment for women in the NT: 1 Corinthians 14.34; 1 Timothy 2.11. Quietness is typically linked with submission. Here it is the godly disposition of a woman seeking to win her husband to the faith (3.1b). This is attractive to men &, more importantly, admirable before God.

Which…is very precious: No man can see the hidden inner being except by our words & deeds. However, God can pierce the physical outward body & see right into the soul of an individual. Here, God sees the submission of a godly woman evidenced by her gentle & quiet spirit. Very precious speaks to the value of this godly disposition: it is expensive. While the world sees the ornaments as expensive, God knows the true value of a godly spirit. Why is the gentle, quiet spirit so valuable to God? Because it comes through faith in Him (cf. 1.7, same word for “precious”).

This verse attests to the fact that man is a compound creature with a physical body (visible) & a spiritual soul (invisible). God has always been concerned more about the condition of our inner spiritual lives than with external form. This is a principle traceable throughout the Bible: 1 Kings 8.39; 1 Samuel 16.7; 1 Chronicles 28.9; 2 Chronicles 6.30; Acts 1.24; Hebrews 4.13; Revelation 2.23.

5For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,

For this…adorn themselves: For is explanatory & introduces an illustration captured in verses 5 & 6. Holy women (Gk hagiai gunaikes) are women who were first & foremost set apart for the purposes of God. They were holy because they hoped in God. They submitted themselves to their husbands because they hoped in God. These women’s hope in God is what drove their obedience, in this case…

By submitting…husbands: This phrase takes us right back to the theme introduced in verses 1-2 while also drawing the relationship to the inner beauty of a godly spirit of verses 3-4. This was their habitual practice, a constant aim in their lives to thusly adorn themselves (imperfect tense) “by accepting the authority of their husbands” (NRSV).

“What is remarkable about this list is that nowhere did Peter or the rest of the New Testament teach that women are inferior to men, that they are intellectually substandard, or that they are more prone to wickedness. Indeed, Peter emphasized that wives are coheirs with husbands of eternal life” (v.7).[1] So the NT was countercultural in promoting the equality (in dignity, value, & worth) of women. Of course, this stemmed from Christ’s revolutionary treatment of women during His ministry.

Confident expectation (hope) of vindication & reward from God is a major theme in 1 Peter. God rewards those who trust Him no matter what the world hits us with or what we have to endure. Whether fiery persecution or submission to an unbelieving spouse, the Christian is to hope in God for deliverance or, at least, the grace needed to suffer in obedience. John Piper calls hope in God the deepest root of womanhood. “A Christian woman does not put her hope in her husband, or in getting a husband. She does not put her hope in her looks. She puts her hope in the promises of God” (Piper).

6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

As Sarah…calling him lord: Sarah is the specific example & when she called Abraham lord is the specific case. Genesis 18.12 seems to be the specific location in Peter’s mind. She speaks positively, respectfully of her husband naturally & normally. Sarah’s obedience (paralleled with submission) to Abraham is when she, in an off-the-cuff comment speaking to herself with no one else to hear, called him lord. This is imperishable beauty of the hidden heart.

Peter does not go to culture to prove his point. He goes back to redemptive history, specifically Sarah. She is the gentle & quiet soul whose obedience/submission to her husband is highlighted for women of all times & places to emulate. Here is imperishable beauty.

And you…frightening: We are all sons of Abraham (Galatians 3.29). At the same time, women are children of Sarah when they submit to & obey their husbands. They are her children when they 1) do good & 2) do not fear. Here is fearless beauty eager for pure conduct (v.1). Do good is a regular theme in 1 Peter which is to be characteristic of all Christians (2.15, et al). Fearlessness is likewise a characteristic which should be common among the people of God (3.14, et al). Those Christian wives who are rich in works & allow nothing to terrify them “have become” (aorist) Sarah’s children. They are then co-heirs of the promise (cf. verse 7) & the church has become by faith Abraham’s covenant family.

From a woman’s hope in God comes the knowledge that she belongs to God, set apart for His purposes (holy). Knowing she belongs to God, she is fearless, courageous to do good to everyone. She does not waste her life as a couch potato watching soap operas all afternoon. Part of her good deeds (pure conduct) is her submission to her husband.

How do you speak about your spouse? When no one was listening (except God) she called her husband “lord,” a term of respect recognizing his inherent dignity & authority. Here is a reflection of a spirit which truly has submitted itself to her husband demonstrating respectful & pure conduct even when no one else is around. Her true character was evident even in her casual inner dialogue with herself. The honor & respect she had for Abraham was sewn into the very fabric of her life. The hidden heart must be kept holy.

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.

Likewise, husbands: Christian behavior & obligations are a two-way street. The wife has her duties (1-6); the husband is to reciprocate with certain behavior “in the same way” (NIV).

Live with…understanding way: lit. according to knowledge. First & foremost is the husbands knowledge of God, His will, & what the Lord requires of him as a husband. The husband is to study his wife & learn her ways. With this knowledge & understanding of her he can “house-together” with her. According to knowledge could also touch his knowledge of himself & knowledge about the nature of marriage. Certainly all this knowledge will enable the husband to fulfill his mutual obligations to his wife, especially…

Showing…weaker vessel: Many modern woman & even some modern Christian women cringe at this statement made by Peter under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. How does God intend for us to understand “weaker vessel” here? Certainly God as Creator would know how women are constituted. Nothing in the Bible hints at women being weaker intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. Elsewhere in Scripture man constitution is regularly compared to a clay pot or vessel (Acts 9.15; Romans 9.22-23). So then what is in view must be sheer physicality. Men are physically stronger than women. Yet, they are to be shown greater honor for that weakness.

The words translated “the woman” is a rare term & literal means “the feminine one.” There is something about the wife’s femaleness which causes the husband to see his wife is worthy of honor. However, in our fallen world, femininity has been high jacked to the detriment of masculinity. At the same time, masculinity has been high jacked & morphed into something cruel & domineering. Wives belittle their husbands & some even argue men are unnecessary. Husbands batter their wives or at the least speak in a derogatory manner about “the ole’ ball & chain.” God the Holy Spirit through Peter, though, shows us men & women’s true nature as recreated in Christ: the beauty of mutual holy respect & pure conduct.

Since…grace of life: Although women are physically weaker, spiritually men & women are equals in their inheritance of the grace of life. Everlasting life is God’s gracious gift to men & women. Men & women are “joint-heirs” of this grace. Husbands are the spiritual leaders with divine authority to guide their families, but they are not the only ones living in & under the grace of God. This is the husband’s motivation for honoring his wife. So also is the next phrase…

So that…hindered: cf. 4.7. Should a husband fail to fulfill his obligations commanded in this verse, his spiritual life will be stymied. God’s ears are closed to the hard-hearted husband who does not honor his wife. It must also be said that God’s ears are closed to the willful wife who refuses to submit herself to her husband. Serious spiritual consequences result from not obeying God’s will.

“To take time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God’s will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight” (Grudem 146). God desires for His people to have happy, healthy marriages. Fortifying the family is godly. A normal Christian marriage is one of love, honor, respect, and pure conduct.

The husband’s three-fold obligation:

  1. He must be understanding: Or “considerate” (NIV). He needs to be sensitive to her needs & feelings.
  2. He must be chivalrous: He respects & honors his wife.
  3. He must remember that she has equal spiritual privilege: husband & wife are joint-heirs of God’s grace & eternal life with Him.

How husbands are to show honor to their wives as weaker vessels: kind words in private; kind words in public; priority in attention given; protection & provision. “Although spiritual equality does not negate all social differences, it does have social implications” (Black & Black 91).

  1. If you are stronger than your wife, you will use your strength to protect her not pummel her.
  2. If you are smarter than your wife, you will use your intelligence to encourage her not destroy her.
  3. If you are more spiritual than your wife, you will use your spirituality to build up her faith not act the Pharisee.
  4. If you are emotionally stronger than your wife, you will use that strength to be her rock when she is heartbroken not tell her to “build a bridge & get over it.”

“The idea that one’s relationship to God may be hindered by one’s relationship to others is a repeated theme of Scripture” (Black & Black 92). This is a principle at the heart of the teaching of Christ (see Matthew 5.22-23; 6.12, 14-15; 18.35; Mark 11.25; cf. Proverbs 21.13). How we treat others matters to God. This is especially true in the marriage relationship. How we treat our spouses matters to God. If we abuse or disrespect our spouse, our prayer life will be interrupted. No husband should expect an effective prayer life if he does not honor his wife & live with her in an understanding way. No wife should expect an effective prayer life if she does not submit herself to her husband & respect him. Like when the operator tells you “Sorry, but your call cannot be completed at this time.” Heaven says, “Sorry, your prayer cannot be heard at this time.” Maybe it is interpersonal conflict; maybe it is internal emotional turmoil so that you are clear headed to pray (cf. 4.7). Go make things right, repent, & do what the Lord told you to do as a spouse.

[1] Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Vol. 37. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003. Print. The New American Commentary.