Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way. —1 Peter 3:7
What does it mean to be a wife? What does it mean to be husband? For all of us, married and single, what does it mean to be a man or a woman? Where do we get our ideas of sexual identity? Who is qualified to coach us in living it out? You and I have never once seen a “person.” The only human beings we have ever seen are men and women and boys and girls. And that is not a divine prank. God had a reason for making us as we are, and it’s beautiful.
The gospel shows us that manhood and womanhood reflect ultimate reality. God did not make us this way just for the physical reproduction of the human race. God made us this way to display Christ and his bride in love together. God made us this way because the gospel is about romance. The whole Bible can be summed up as God saying to us, “I loved you, but I lost you, and I want you back.” The gospel is about God pursuing us and winning us forever. The gospel is why our culture tells stories that end, “And they lived happily ever after.” The gospel is why America woke up early Friday morning to watch the royal wedding. What the human imagination is so drawn to, God has revealed in the gospel—the wonder of his romance. And we proclaim the gospel by living out the magnificence of manhood and womanhood in Christ.
The key to 1 Peter 3:1-7 is the word “likewise” at the beginning of verse 1 and at the beginning of verse 7. Another translation says, “In the same way.” The same as what? Wives live out their womanhood and husbands live out their manhood in the same way as something else. What is Peter thinking of by linking a wife and a husband with something else? He’s pointing us back to Christ: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (2:21). Wives and husbands have different steps in this dance, different ways of following Christ, as we see in verses 1-7. But what they have in common is Christ as their example. You will recall that, at the end of chapter 2, we saw Christ as our substitute, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, and also Christ as our example, doing ahead of us what we also do – follow in his footsteps, doing hard things. Now we respond to the gospel of Christ our substitute by following in the steps of Christ our example. And with him as our example, it means that a wife’s role is not a put-down for her and a husband’s role is not a trap for him. Christ leads struggling lovers into deeper, life-long romance. And all that Peter is saying here goes back to chapter 2, verse 12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [that is, among unbelievers] honorable.” There is nothing harmful to women in following Christ, and there is nothing unmanly for men in following Christ. To stand out as a Christlike woman or a Christlike man is honorable and noble. Let’s think it through together.
A Christlike wife
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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. —1 Peter 3:1-2
Subjection to your husband? What does that mean? I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. Submission doesn’t mean a wife should do whatever evil thing her husband says. After all, verse 2 refers to “your pure conduct.” And verse 6 says, “You are [Sarah’s] children, if you do good.” This is not a robotic woman who can’t think for herself. After all, her example is Jesus, not her husband. Nor does submission mean, secondly, that a wife shouldn’t try to influence her husband. The whole point of verses 1-2 is how she can influence him. Nor, thirdly, are these verses parroting a traditional culture. These verses are countercultural. In the ancient world, a wife was expected to accept her husband’s gods as an act of submission to her husband. Peter is defying that cultural norm.
What then does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband? Verse 4: “…a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” A gentle and quiet spirit is a willingness to defer, to affirm a husband’s leadership, to receive him rather than compete with him. Jesus himself was like this: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). It’s a mentality–not a list of rules but a mentality–of cheerfully adjusting and adapting. Peter has already taught all of us that that should be our attitude as citizens (2:13) and as employees (2:18). Peter pointed us to Jesus as our example of submission, even when it’s hard (2:21-25). Submission to authority is not a demeaning human invention. Submission to authority began in heaven and came down to earth. The Son submitted to the Father for our redemption (Philippians 2:1-11). God calls every one of us into relationships of submission to authority in different areas of life, including a wife to her husband.
Do you submit to your husband? Or do you compete with him? Does your husband feel that he has to resist you, to preserve his dignity as a man? Does he have to walk on eggshells at home or you might explode? When he comes home, does he enter an environment of honor or “attitude”? Some Christian women tell themselves, “But I was born with a strong personality.” Maybe. But 1 Peter began by praising God that we have been born again (1:3). God’s power is changing how we were born. Do you need to seek the Lord for a gentle and quiet spirit toward your husband? A man does not marry a woman so that she can set him straight. If you do want your husband to change, verse 1 is the only way: “…even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” So, let’s say that maybe your husband isn’t all you wanted. You disagree with him in important ways. And you might be right. But if your husband gets the feeling that you’re not on his side, he won’t listen. A demanding attitude is a pain to live with. You might be wondering, “When will he finally see how right I am and how smart I am and how capable I am?” But your husband didn’t marry you for that. He wants a lover—with “a gentle and quiet spirit.”
Whether or not your husband admires that heart in you, God will say you are beautiful:
Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear–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. 1 Peter 3:3-4
Peter isn’t saying, “Don’t adorn yourself.” Adornment and beauty are exactly what Peter is affirming. Nor is Peter saying that outward adornment is wrong. But he is saying, that isn’t a woman’s true beauty. And we all know it. A woman who loves Jesus and honors her husband with a sweet attitude – that woman is radiant. Even as the years go by, she only becomes more beautiful. This beauty, verse 4 says, is imperishable. Always in fashion. Always precious to God.
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. —1 Peter 3:5-6
I’m not sure any of us would have chosen Sarah as a role model. And since Peter is addressing women married to men who don’t always obey the Word, what does that say about her husband Abraham? Peter is thinking here of Genesis 18. It was not Sarah’s finest hour. God made a promise that, even in her old age, she would have a son. Do you know what she did with God’s promise? She laughed. The Bible says, “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12). But God didn’t laugh at her. God looked past her skepticism and saw her heart for her husband. It was very precious to God.
Here’s why. Following Abraham wasn’t easy. God kicked out from underneath both of them the usual props of family and home and called Abraham and Sarah to live on mission. God called them away from putting family at the center of their existence, the way so many Americans are family-centered today. God called them away from that, to live for unseen and eternal things above all else, and that’s the call of God on our lives today. It isn’t easy. It is never easy to live by faith. Sarah must have been tempted many times to worry and pull back and say, “Enough is enough, Abraham. Be reasonable. Let’s not go too far with God.” She didn’t do that. She didn’t influence Abraham to disobey God. She didn’t even leave to Abraham all the trusting in God. Verse 5 says she too put her hope in God, and it was beautiful: “This is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves.” Worry is not beautiful. Trust in God is beautiful. And any woman can be gorgeous this way. Let me explain how practical this is. A question many ministers ask Christian parents in the service of infant baptism goes like this:
Have you covenanted with God to give back this child to Him, so that, if He sees fit in His providence to call this child home to Himself, you will not complain against Him, or if the child grows to adulthood and is called to some form of special Christian service even in a place far from you, you will not stand in your child’s way but rather you will encourage him?
You are Sarah’s beautiful daughters today, as you turn from fear and put your hope in God—with (or without) your husband.
A Christlike husband
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. —1 Peter 3:7
The key words are “in an understanding way.” Men, have you studied your wife? Have you thought about her, so that you really understand her? “Live with your wife in an understanding way” means you love her on her terms, under Christ – that is, in a way that’s meaningful to her, because you’ve come to understand her heart. You have not loved your wife until she feels loved. You have not listened to your wife until she feels listened to. You have not understood your wife until she feels understood. And if you do give her understanding and sympathy, and she’s still unsatisfied, you have the example of Jesus back in chapter 2. “Likewise, husbands, in the same way, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.”
In the King James Version of John 15:1, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” My dictionary tells me that, when our word “husband” is used as a verb, it means “to cultivate.” A Christian husband should husband, or cultivate, his wife. He should nurture her and tend her and help her to grow. And you can’t do that without thought, attention, sharing together the Word of God and the deep things of your hearts. So God is asking you here, Do you know what she longs to become? Do you know her needs, her sorrows, her joys? Do you see her life through her eyes? Christ not only knows you. He understands you. And you are becoming amazing under his love. In the same way, live with your wife.
“…showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” “Weaker” in what sense? A woman is not intellectually or morally weaker. Peter cannot mean that, because he goes on to say that a husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life.” Before God, men and women are equal partners in the privilege of life. So what does Peter mean when he calls the woman a “weaker vessel”? I’m reminded of what Jesus said about the End Times in Matthew 24. He warns us that those will be terrible days, barely survivable. He says, “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” His prophetic eyes foresee refugees running from the apocalyptic dread of the Last Days. And then he says, “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers” (verse 19).
Why does he say that? Why doesn’t he add, “How dreadful it will be also for teenage boys whose voices are changing and middle-aged men who are balding”? Because women live with physical delicacies we men hardly understand. That is why Peter uses the word “vessel.” He is thinking of the body as a fragile instrument. He doesn’t call a woman “the weak vessel” but “the weaker vessel.” We men are weak, too. But living with our wives “in an understanding way” means we men take into account the physical burdens our wives bear, their monthly cycle, the demandingness of minding children, and so forth, and we help out. A Christlike husband responds to his wife’s delicacy not by disdaining her but the opposite: “…showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.”
But why? Why does a Christian husband choose sympathy and reject impatience? Because he and his wife are “heirs together of the grace of life.” We are living on Someone Else’s generosity. Every moment together, every kiss, every child, every meal – a husband and wife are heirs together, walking through life hand in hand, sharing God’s goodness. See your life together as a grace, a privilege. Enjoy it that way.
Finally, “…so that your prayers may not be hindered.” What on earth is that doing here? Why does Peter add this warning? Because he understands something we might not know. It’s so obvious to him, he just takes it for granted. What is it? A Christian marriage is, above all else, a spiritual relationship: “…o that your prayers may not be hindered.” Look at this. Do you see how this is the purpose clause at the end of the verse: “…so that….”? So here is the purpose of a Christian marriage—that a man and woman together would walk with God and talk with God and glorify and enjoy God together. That’s what marriage is for. And when a Christian husband follows Jesus by considering his wife above himself, their walk with God grows deeper.
It’s true that prayer will improve our marriages. But Peter is an unloving marriage will hinder our prayers. We men might be wondering, “Why isn’t God more real in my life?” We might think, “I must not be praying enough.” Maybe. But maybe it’s because you’re not living with your wife in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, granting her honor as a fellow-heir of the grace of life. If you’re satisfied with a shallow relationship with your wife, maybe God is giving you a shallow relationship with him.
Men, God is calling us to a spiritual relationship with our wives, because his presence is the greatest blessing of all. And maybe, to go with deeper with God, you need to say to your wife this afternoon, “I want to be a better husband for you. How can I please you more?” And maybe you need to say to God, “Father, I repent of my contempt for you in my selfishness toward my wife. Please forgive me. I want to seek your heart for my wife.”