By BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR
Our lesson this week explores the next category of believers addressed by Peter in his continuing exhortation to beloved sojourners who are to do good and thereby bring glory to God: wives and husbands. This comes a little closer to home than when Peter addressed slaves. There are still some aspects of cultural context which we will uncover so that we may better understand why he writes to wives the way he does, but, as Daniel Doriani points out, “we can’t dismiss Peter’s message as a temporary command, a concession, or an adaptation to the times that the church would outgrow.” Why? Because, “the message of Scripture always transcends its occasion.”
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands…”
In 21st century America, Peter’s exhortation to wives may not draw a positive first reaction. Society tells us that this is out-of-date, oppressive, bigoted, misogynistic, scandalous, even unsafe. If, as believing women, we are challenged by what we read here, rather than discounting it, we should slow down and consider why we are responding the way we are. Doriani reminds us that we may be more influenced by worldly thinking than we realize. “The prevailing mind-set of our age does influence us. Therefore, if our Bible-reading never challenges us, we probably aren’t reading well. Faith that never upsets us is a designer faith, with the self as designer.”
Peter is speaking to the God-ordained ordering of the family. He isn’t teaching that the husband is superior to the wife, but that a godly wife respectfully submits to her husband as they work together in the care of their family and home. Wives are not inferior, but as we will see in verse 7, they are co-heirs with their husbands of the grace of life. The believing husband and wife stand side-by-side at the foot of the cross.
Peter’s admonition to wives here (3:1), and later to husbands (3:7), begins with, “likewise.” He is pointing us back to what he has been telling us about living as beloved sojourners in different aspects of society. He spoke first about our role out among the world and under governmental authority (2:13-16), and then in the workplace (18, 19), and now he speaks to our lives within our homes with our families. In each area of our lives we are to remember that this is not our home, and we are to do good and glorify God. We are to do this for the Lord’s sake, because it is his will that our good deeds will silence our accusers and show forth the truth of the gospel. Even if we suffer—especially if we suffer for doing good—it is gracious in God’s sight.
There is a gospel reason for Peter’s exhortation to 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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (3:1). Peter began by addressing all wives, and here he narrows his focus before broadening it to again to include all wives (all women, really). Here he is concerned for those women whose husbands are not (yet) Christians. This is likewise bringing forward the idea he expressed earlier that the believers’ honorable conduct among unbelievers will result in glory to God (2:12).
A believing wife living out her obedience to Scripture in the presence of her unbelieving husband will speak volumes to him about the life-changing reality of the gospel. But she is to live, not lecture. She isn’t to be his Holy Spirit and force a change in him. We are two thousand years removed from the people to whom Peter wrote, so I find Daniel Doriani’s explanation of the cultural significance this living witness to be helpful.
“Peter draws on norms admired by Greco-Roman moralists as he counsels wives in winsome behavior. Ethicists often urged women to be chaste and respectful, to shun gaudy clothes and hair, and to show a meek and quiet spirit. . . . Furthermore, that age assumed that wives would adopt the religion(s) of their husbands. A Christian woman, upon conversion to the faith, could no longer participate in pagan worship rituals. . . . that refusal would seem subversive. Thus, Peter tells godly wives to conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate their respect for their husbands and so to mitigate the potential tension caused by their faith.”
The goal for the Christian wife was to win her husband to the Lord. By showing him respect, and living out the beauty of a believing life in his presence, she was demonstrating that her rebellion was not against him, but against the pagan religion(s) to which he adhered.
Peter then sketches for us the character of a submissive wife:
“when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—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” (3:2-4).
A submissive wife, indeed, a godly woman, is one who conducts herself with respect toward her own husband and with purity. Her beauty shines from within, with a gentle and quiet spirit. Peter describes this inner beauty as “imperishable.” What else in our study have we learned is imperishable? In 1:7, we learn that our faith, proved genuine by grievous trials, is imperishable when compared to gold, which is perishable. In the same way, in 1:18-19 we see that the blood of Christ, by which we have been ransomed from death to life, is imperishable compared to perishable things such as silver and gold. Then, in 1:23 we find that the living and abiding Word of God is the imperishable seed by which we have been born again.
Our faith, Christ’s blood, God’s Word, and now, the gentle and quiet spirit of a believing woman’s heart, are all imperishable. Sisters, this spirit within each of us, refined and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, is the adornment we will wear as we walk through the gates of pearl and onto the streets of gold in Heaven! As we labor together with the Spirit to grow in holiness, we are crafting our “forever character.” We are preparing for eternity! All along Peter has been encouraging us to look beyond the temporary circumstances in which we live and to focus on our eternal goal, “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” and here we see it again. His thoughts and writing are so deeply saturated by his anticipation of eternity that it slips out in everything he teaches. Submitting to our husbands is one of the myriad ways in which we are preparing for heaven. And it’s not merely pleasing in God’s sight, it is “very precious.” And that is certainly a motivation for us to desire a gentile and quiet spirit.
Let us not forget that Jesus himself modeled submission in his earthly life.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17, 18)
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
And even in 1 Peter, we have already encountered our Lord’s submission—as well as the explanation for how he did it:
“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. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Jesus was able to submit fully to the task set before him by his Father, shutting his mouth and restraining his response, because he was “entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus knew full well who he was, and he knew also, full well, that his Father was trustworthy. We also must know who we are: we are God’s own people, purchased by Jesus’ blood, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We are beloved sojourners who have been called to do good—right where we are—and thereby glorify God.
We sometimes struggle with the idea of submitting to our husbands for one very simple reason: Sin! We can blame culture, upbringing, expectations, Hollywood, and our husbands, but it all comes back to sin. At the Fall, when God pronounced his curse upon Eve—and all her daughters after her—we read:
“To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
The word used for “desire” in this verse is the same used in 4:7 when God is speaking with angry Cain, right before he murders his brother:
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)
This “desire” is a desire for control, for mastery. Sin was crouching at Cain’s door, eager to control him in his anger; Eve—and all her daughters—would desire to control their husbands, who were to rule their households. We struggle with submission because we want to be in control, to take charge, call the shots, take the reins. We want to lead when we should be following. In a godly home, the husband isn’t a tyrant and he gives his wife freedom to decide how she will manage her responsibilities. But there are times when a final decision about something must be made, a big decision, (getting real:even little decisions…) and if there is disagreement between husband and wife, the husband has the final word, and the godly wife submits to his decision without quarrelling or murmuring.
Girlfriends, this is hard. This is where the rubber meets the road. Even a marriage between Christians involves two sinners daily living out their sanctification. This is where we must look through eternal lenses and realize that some things are temporary and other things are imperishably eternal, and we must choose the eternal.
The Greek word which Peter is using for the “gentle” spirit which we are to cultivate is used only three other times in the New Testament. The first is one of the qualities listed in the Beatitudes, and the next two are descriptions Jesus gives of himself.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Matthew 21:5)
These are the goals of every believer: to be blessed and become like Christ. As we put off our ungentle and unquiet selves and put on gentle and quiet spirits we are becoming more and more like our Savior, being crafted into his image, which is very precious indeed.
But how do we develop a gentle and quiet spirit?
“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (3:5, 6)
When you read verses 5 and 6 the verbs “Submitting” and “obeyed” may jump off the page at you as the actions to take to develop gentle and quiet spirits. But I think the key is in the first verb we find. The holy women “hoped in God.” To put off sin and put on holiness we don’t merely force the sin down, we look to God, our Savior and Sanctifier. We look to the character of Christ, whose obedience in holy living is not only our example, but made our salvation possible by making his sacrifice acceptable to God the Father. We look to the cross where our sin was paid for and our ransom was secured by the precious blood. Because of Christ—because he lives—we can “turn away from evil and do good,” and we can “seek peace and pursue it” (3:11).
As Peter taught us earlier, we are to be “preparing [our] minds for action, and being sober-minded, set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13) Our hope needs to be set fully on Christ. Not mostly on Christ and a little bit on our husbands, or a smidge on ourselves. It must be fully on Christ.
And that’s not only for the times when marriage is “easy.” It’s for when marriage is hard. Notice how verse 6 ends, “And you are [Sarah’s] children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” Frightening? What’s that about? Abraham was God’s friend (James 2:23); how could marriage to such a godly man be frightening?
Well, for one, when God called, Abe packed his bags, loaded the camels, took his wife and nephew, and left their family, home, and the city they knew for… where? They wandered around the land of Canaan, living in tents, never settling down in any place long enough to build a house and call it home. Can you imagine the depth of trust Sarah needed when her husband told her that all that land would belong to their descendants, who would outnumber the stars, and yet they owned not a square foot of property and her nursery was empty? But wait—there’s more. When they left the promised land during a famine for the bread basket of Egypt, her husband attempted to pass her off as his sister, and Pharaoh swept her into his own harem! Once wasn’t enough: he did the same thing years later when they sojourned in Gerar. God had promised them a son, and in his attempt to save his own skin, Abraham put that promise in jeopardy by risking losing his wife to other men.
Like I said, even marriage to a godly man has, well, opportunities for sanctification.
The biblical view of inner beauty, as Peter describes in our passage, stands in stark contrast to our culture’s obsession with external beauty. The disadvantages to placing such high value on external beauty are many. Such beauty is temporary and fading; it favors youth and is often a single mold into which many women simply don’t fit; the standards change, and it is never enough. In Peter’s day, the elaborate braiding of hair was time-consuming and expensive and, combined with gold jewelry and ostentatious clothing was a conspicuous display of wealth and luxury. Today there are many ways to make similar displays with our outward adornments, but Peter is calling us to something higher.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take care of our bodies and our appearance at all. This is encouraging us to place proper emphasis where it is most needed, and most eternally effective. We have been given bodies for which we should be good stewards. Taking proper care of our appearance is not only good stewardship of this gift, but pleasing to our husbands. As I once heard a preacher declare, “if the barn needs painting, paint it!” Being mindful of God, and seeking to honor our husbands, we will find the right balance in caring for our bodies and appearances.
The inner beauty to which Peter calls us is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, working together with the believing woman, who, over time, grows more and more beautiful. It is also the work of the church, as we travel together on our journey to holiness. Consider Paul’s exhortation in Titus 2:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3-5)
This is what the women in the church are to be and to do with one another. Answering the question: “how do I develop these graces?” is as vast and complex as the number of women asking. God designed the church to function together: arm-in-arm in sanctification and being built up into the spiritual house of believers.
This is precisely what Women of Purpose is aiming to build among our own women at Christ Presbyterian Church. We need our older women who have learned the rhythms of gentleness and quietness to come alongside our younger women who want to learn to be gentle and quiet in their own hearts. Our older women are treasures of blessing for the church, and resources which our younger women need to draw upon. Likewise, our younger women are needed by our older women to encourage them that they are still highly valuable to the body of Christ, and what they have learned over their lifetimes of walking with him is very precious.
We are praying and planning a Titus 2 Ministry for the women of CPC. Would you please pray for us as we plan? Would you ask the Lord how you fit in to this ministry: are you an older woman (spiritually, if not physically) who has walked with the Lord and could share your walk with a younger woman who wants to learn? Or are you a younger woman (also, spiritually, if not physically) who wants to grow in the disciplines of grace and godliness? Do none of these descriptions sound quite like you? Then would you ask the Lord to show you where you fit? The women of our church need one another—we need you.
Finally, we come to the final verse in our passage:
“Likewise, 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.” (3:7)
Peter is instructing husbands to live with their wives with understanding, honor, and prayer. The fact that this admonition to husbands follows hard after the exhortation to wives to submit to them illustrates a Scriptural truth. Husbands are not to be oppressive to or abusers of their wives. Abuse, verbal or physical, is approved nowhere in Scripture.
Also notice that Peter instructs wives to submit, and husbands to honor, but he does not give spouses the authority to enforce one another’s obedience to his commands. The husband is not told to see to it that his wife is submissive, nor is the wife told to make sure her husband honors her. But when each is obeying the commands of Scripture, their respective roles are so much easier to fulfill. Submission to an honoring husband is blessed, and honoring a respectful wife is a delight.
Peter here is instructing the husband not only to lead, but how to lovingly lead his wife. To understand her, he must know her. To know her, he must listen to her and pay attention to her. He must strive to see and to know the hidden person of her heart, and, as co-heir with her of the grace of life, he should cherish her gentle and quiet nature as very precious.
I spent a lot of words describing, encouraging, and exhorting us women to be subject to our husbands, in recognition that it is not always easy. Let’s flip that coin and admit that we aren’t always so easy to love or honor. We are not developing our gentle and quiet spirits so that our husbands will love and honor us, but for the Lord’s sake. But give a little consideration to how much of an obstacle we are removing from our husband’s obedience when we do develop these graces. Our obedience helps his; and his helps ours. It’s almost as if we are a team!
By calling the wife a “weaker vessel,” Peter is referring to physical stamina, perhaps even economic or social status, but not intellectual ability, moral courage, or spiritual strength. Husband and wife stand side-by-side on the level ground at the foot of the cross. Husbands are to view their wives as co-heirs of the grace of life, and therefore worthy of honor. While the biblical mandate for marriage gives the husband headship over the wife and calls her to submit to her husband, this does not translate to her having less value in the kingdom of God than her husband, as Paul taught the Galatians when he wrote the following to them:
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)
The consequences for a husband who disregards his wife and does not give her the honor she is due are dire. Peter says his prayers will be hindered. But this consequence swings in both directions, as Simon Kistemaker points out:
“When a husband fails to live with his wife according to Scripture and does not respect her, he finds that he is unable to pray with her. Similarly, when a wife refuses to accept her husband’s authority, she experiences an inability to pray with her spouse. God does not accept prayers that husband and wife offer in an atmosphere of strife and contention. He wants them to be reconciled so that they are able to pray together in peace and harmony and thus enjoy untold divine blessings.”
The blessings of marriage are to reflect the blessings of being in Christ. Christ is the Bridegroom and the church is his bride. Our pledge to our spouse when we marry is to covenant faithfulness, for better or for worse. Let us do all that is in our power to be the “better,” and not the “worse.” For, as believers, we are pledged to our Lord, who will be everlastingly faithful to us, so we can safely place our hope fully in him, no matter what difficult providences he allows in our lives.
“The ground of Peter’s counsel is the biblical view of God and covenant. The Lord has pledged himself to us in a covenant relationship. He is faithful to that covenant, even when we are not. If we trust the Lord, and his life shapes ours, then we, too, must be faithful to our spouses, even unbelievers. That is how we show that the faithful, enduring love of the Lord has redeemed us and transformed us.”
To God be the glory.
 Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 109.
 Ibid., 112.
 Ibid., 109.
 Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 125
 Doriani, 123.