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7. God's Design for Dealing with Unbelieving/Disobedient Husbands

Wisdom from the Word

Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes—but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NET)

Understanding God’s Design

I have heard women excuse their lack of submission by saying that their husbands aren’t men of prayer and are not seeking God’s will. Some have said that their husbands are not believers so they don’t have to submit to them. Are these valid excuses?

Read 1 Peter 2:11-3:6.

    1. Copy 3:1-2 below.

    2. To what kind of husbands are we to submit according to 3:1? Try to look this up in more than one translation of the Bible and write down the exact words used.

This refers primarily to an unbelieving husband, but it can be applied also to the one who is not walking according to the Word of God. In either case, just as we discussed in the submission lesson, the key is your trust in God. You obey Him by submitting and letting Him deal with your husband.

    3. This entire passage deals with submission and gives several reasons for submitting to those in authority over us—in our nations, our jobs and our homes. What reasons do you see in 2:12, 15, 19?

    4. Peter turns to wives in 3:1. He begins his instruction with the phrase “in the same way”. This refers us back to the ways he has mentioned in the previous verses. List the ways that submission has been described in 2:16-18. Write down the actual phrases used.

    5. What reason is given for submitting to unbelieving husbands in 3:1?

    6. What do you learn about submitting to unbelieving husbands from Christ’s example in 2:21-25?

Jesus put up with the abuse of the crowds and the soldiers and the officials. He brought salvation to us through this sacrifice; when you follow His example, you work with Him in bringing salvation to your spouse. (I am not suggesting that you submit to physical abuse; separate from him until your husband comes to repentance; for the same purpose God removes His fellowship from us when we sin. Once true repentance has occurred, forgiveness and restoration follow.)

I am not suggesting that these are easy lessons. Remember our previous lesson when we studied the consequences of sin in the world? God told the woman that she would desire the man, or want to control him. When we submit, it goes against our sinful desires. In our selfishness we want to make the decisions, and in our pride we think we know better than our husbands.

F.B. Meyer discusses this 1 Peter passage and its obligation to the woman who has an unbelieving husband.18

It was, primarily, addressed to those who since their marriage had become Christians. There was considerable hesitancy in the early Church, as to their duty under such circumstances. “Should they leave their husbands?” . . . “No,” said the Apostles, “stay where you are, however painful your position, and uncongenial your surroundings, and trying your husband’s conduct. Be chaste, gentle, loving, submissive, winsome, so that hearts may be softened, which have never heard a word of Gospel preaching, and may be won by the beauty of your holy and unselfish lives.”

F.B. Meyer

God truly calls wives to an unselfish and giving love that accepts even a difficult marriage and unfair treatment in an effort to bring their husbands to know their Lord. I have been blessed with a kind and understanding husband so I can only guess at the difficulty of day after day having to overlook the verbal abuse of such a man. I do know that God gives us the grace that we need for the situation. He never gives us more than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13).

God tells us exactly what kind of wife will win her husband. It involves more than submitting to them. It involves the right attitude and actions.

    7. How will they be won according to 3:1-2?

Peter is not saying that we should not pay attention to our looks, but that is not to be secondary. Our society is so focused on beauty today. Wives should seek to look attractive for their husbands, so long as it is not an obsession or an attempt to seek the attention of others. Remember that your body is for your husband, not for others to gawk at. (In 1Tim. 2:9 God commands us to dress modestly). God says that it is not attention to the outward appearance that will win your husband but the attention to your soul.

    8. What adjectives are used to describe the inward beauty that we are to seek (3:4)?

The word for meek, or gentle deals with an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting; it is closely linked with the word humility . . . . It is only the humble heart which is also the meek, and which, as such, does not fight against God and more or less struggle and contend with Him. This meekness, however, being first of all a meekness before God, is also such in the face of men, even of evil men, out of a sense that these, with the insults and injuries which they may inflict, are permitted and employed by Him for the chastening and purifying of His elect. . . . It identifies a condition of the mind and heart. . . It is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit, neither elated nor cast down because not occupied with self at all.19

The bottom line here is that we accept everything as coming from God, trusting Him rather than resisting, fighting, and arguing. That is possible because we know that He uses everything to increase our inner beauty (Rom. 8:28-29).

    9. Do you have a gentle or meek spirit according to this definition? Where must you put your focus in order to adorn yourself this way?

The quiet or tranquil spirit is “quiet, tranquil and indicates tranquility arising from within, causing no disturbance to others.”20 So often we think that this means that soft-voiced women are more spiritual. Instead, the quiet spirit is the peace in the heart that comes from trusting God in the midst of a difficult situation. In fact, we can speak with soft voices and yet not have quiet spirits at all because we are internally upset, failing to accept our situations as from God. The quiet spirit flows out of the meek spirit. Once we accept everything that comes into our lives as coming from God, we can be at peace within because we trust that God is at work.

I am so thankful that this passage is not suggesting that I must learn to whisper and be quiet around others. According to this definition I can become a woman who has a gentle and quiet spirit without changing the loudness of my voice or the amount of talking I do. If I am to adorn myself with the “meek and quiet” kind of attitude, it will take time and work, just as physical adornment does. I must spend time and effort focusing on my God and seeing everything, even my husband’s bad judgment, as coming from His hand for a purpose and a reason.

Memorize these verses that are your Word of Wisdom this week. Whether your husband is a believer or an unbeliever, you should adorn yourself this way because this kind of spirit is “very precious in the sight of God”. I want to be a woman that God values so highly because of my inward beauty. Don’t you?

Read Romans 8:28-29.

    10. What does God promise in these verses that will help you trust Him even when you feel that your husband’s decision is not God’s will?

    11. In 1 Peter 3, God uses the example of Sarah as a wife who adorned herself inwardly and submitted to her husband with the right attitude. Interestingly, although he was a believer, Abraham didn’t always choose the best path and acted out of fear rather than faith. Yet, Sarah was not frightened by that, according to 1 Peter 3:6.

Read Genesis 12:10-20; 20:11-18.

Sarah submitted to Abraham’s hair-brained schemes to save his own neck. In both cases she went into another man’s harem as a result. In the first situation, she apparently did sleep with the king. The second time God protected her because He wanted there to be no question that her child was Abraham’s (to be born within the year), as He had promised them both. God did not praise her sin but her attitude. She submitted by trusting God in the midst of the circumstances rather than being afraid.

I realize that when I get most upset about a decision with which I don’t agree, it is because I fear the consequences. Gary has made financial decisions that I would not have made, and they have scared me. Over the years, I have learned to trust God with the results of Gary’s choices. The time may come when we have to deal with some bad consequences; however, if we do, God will be true to His promise in Rom. 8:28-29 to use it to make us more like Christ.

I have a friend who has prayed for her husband’s salvation for many years. I began to notice, however, that every time they faced a crisis of some kind, she also prayed for God’s deliverance. Perhaps, those crises were the very situations that God wanted to use to remind her husband that he needs Him. Although it was hard, in a sense the crises may have been part of the answer to her prayer. She needed to begin praying for her husband with “Whatever it takes,” and to accept everything that came into their lives without fear as coming from God.

Are you willing to let God deal with you and your husband in any way necessary to bring both of you to maturity? If so, trust him with your husband’s decisions. The consequences of a bad decision may be the best thing that ever happened to you and to him.

    12. What consequences of your husband’s choices scare you? In what situations do you have a difficult time trusting God?


Building Your Marriage with God’s Design

    13. What are some ways you can work to adorn yourself with a gentle and quiet spirit as described above? Name one practical way you will work on this during the next week.

Last week when we studied love, we saw that love sometimes involves confronting sin. There may be a time when we must deal with sin in our husbands. I would say that this is rare. Usually we are upset about the gray areas rather than outright sin. If you feel that your believing husband is involved in a sin, pray hard about when and where to confront him and be sure that your heart attitude is right before you talk to him at all.

Read Ephesians 4:15.

    14. When you must confront your husband, or anyone else, what must your motive be?

If your motive is anything else, anger or selfishness or concern about yourself, you should not confront him. Pray about your attitude because it must be right before you can deal with your husband.

    15. How do Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:5 apply to this situation?

Submission is an attitude more than anything else, and is harmonious with confrontation, as Carole Mayhall explains:21

All of Scripture is for wives. All of the Bible is for every Christian. Scriptures such as ‘speak the truth in love’ , , , are totally compatible with being a wife who is in submission to her husband. Submission is an attitude of heart . . . and an attitude of yieldedness and of love.

Carole Mayhall

When there is a decision that needs to be made for you or your family, submission does not mean that you cannot speak up with your perspective or suggestions. Just be sure that you do it with the right attitude and that your husband understands that you respect him and his decision. If he is a believer and in sin, you should confront him about it. If he will not accept your words, involve the church authorities, as Jesus outlines in Matt. 18:15-20.

Susan Foh helps us understand the balance.22

The Christian wife has the responsibility to grow in Christ, to know doctrine, to be able to speak the truth in love. That is, she is not to be ignorant, nor to rely on her husband’s knowledge and/or participation as a substitute for her own. In addition, she is not to be silent when her husband sins (Matt. 18:15) . . . .Her submission manifests itself in lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance in love, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-3) but also in reverence for her husband as her head. The Christian wife is neither passive nor mindless. She does not have to pretend her husband is always right or hide her own talents or intelligence. She is to use her gifts for the up building of the body of Christ, which includes her husband.

Susan T. Foh

    16. Using the principles of 1 Peter 3, how often do you think you need to be the one to speak to your husband about his walk with God? Why?

I know some Christian women who love the Lord and His Word. The problem is that they have so intimidated their husbands spiritually that these poor men do not believe they can ever live up to their wives’ expectations; thus, they don’t even try. There is no indication that their wives respect them or their decisions. The women treat their mates as spiritual inferiors.

If your husband is a believer who is not walking with the Lord, as he should, leave him to God. Think of the grace that God has shown to you. Give that same grace to your husband. Do as Peter suggests, walk the walk and let God do the talking. Accept your husband where he is in his journey with God. Let God have room to work without your interference.

If your husband is not a believer, you can still give him your suggestions and perspective in a loving and respectful way. Showing him your faith without words does not mean that you cannot talk with him concerning decisions. Remember that you are his helper in his decision-making process. What you don’t do is preach to him! There may be times when you need to speak to him in love and remind him that his actions may have serious consequences. Your approach will be different from that of the wife of a believer because your husband does not accept God’s Word and His guidelines for life. You use other reasoning that he will accept and understand. Your primary command is to live it, not talk about it. If his actions require you to sin with him, you must not submit in that case.

I read somewhere about a church that became concerned for its members whose husbands were not believers. Rather than praying for the salvation of the husbands involved, they began to pray that the wives would become 1 Peter 3 kind of women. They prayed for the witness of the women through their lives rather than their words instead of focusing their prayers on the men. God began to do a work as he honored His Word by saving many men whose wives started obeying the Scripture.

    17. Write a prayer either for yourself or for another women whose husband is not a believer or who is not walking closely with the Lord. Pray for her spirit to become that of the 1 Peter 3 wife.

I applied this principle to someone close to me whose husband is not a believer. I began to pray for her more than I prayed for him. Although he has not become a Christian, I have seen her attitude change, and their marriage has improved immensely. If your husband falls into this category, begin to concentrate your prayers on yourself and the work that God needs to do in you. Pray that God will make you a submissive wife with a quiet and gentle spirit who walks her faith before her husband rather than talking about it to him.

What does God say about divorce and the unbelieving husband? He tells us to let him leave if he chooses, but the marriage is a mission, which opens the possibility of his salvation and affects the children positively for God (1 Cor. 7:12-16). The decision to remain with an unbeliever is the kind of sacrificial love that Christ showed to you when He came to earth to die for you.

What if your husband makes a decision that you feel is wrong, perhaps even sinful. How do you appeal that kind of decision? Daniel’s life provides a great example of how to handle this situation.

Read Daniel 1:8-21.

    18. Write down the principles you learn from Daniel about how to appeal a decision by someone in authority over you, even a husband. Notice what Daniel does and how he does it.

I participated in a mission trip to Kazakhstan recently. The native Kazakh people are Muslim, at least culturally. I met Christian women whose Muslim husbands refused to let them attend church. Physical or at least verbal abuse often follows if they go anyway. The women asked me what to do. I silently prayed for wisdom. I suggested that they respectfully request a trial period of a month or two where they would be allowed to go to church. At the end of that time, their husbands would give permission to go if they had been better wives as a result. In any case the women must obey God’s command to meet with other believers.

Parenting with God’s Design

You are in authority over your children. The word for “obey” (Eph. 6:1) is a different Greek word than the word submit. A wife chooses to place herself under her husbands’ leadership while a child has no choice. Although there is an attitude difference here, your submission to your husband helps your children learn obedience. There may be times when your decisions as a parent are hasty and even wrong. Be sure that you allow them to approach you with an appeal, just as you would desire that right with your husband.

    19. What are your children learning by following your example of submission? Do you see any reflection of your attitude toward your husband or anyone else to whom you must submit?

Wisdom from a Mentor (Betty Jo)

The 1 Peter 3 passage always bothered me because I never saw myself as that personality type, "quiet and gentle". One Bible session years ago, I asked a pastor how I could fit into that with my personality. He gave me the Greek understanding of those words: absence of fear. Now that fits with any personality type. Once again the old question comes up: "Do you trust Me?" Sarah is my example and she trusted God enough to go without fear into a harem, twice. I would have been kicking and screaming and calling Abraham all kinds of names, not nice ones. She trusted, believed God and HE came through supernaturally. If I want to see God work supernaturally, then I have to operate in faith not fear, even things concerning our children and decisions that my husband might make.

Summing It Up

    20. Write a commitment to God, listing at least three things you will do by applying the specifics of 1 Peter 3 to your life right now. For example—I will be submissive and respectful even if my husband does not pray about our decision to move. I will quit suggesting that my husband come to church, but I will let my actions show its impact upon me. I will spend as much time with God adorning myself inwardly as I spend putting on my make-up, doing my hair and nails, and working out.

18 F.B. Meyer, Tried by Fire (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 100.

19 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 401.

20 Ibid., 503.

21 Carole Mayhall, “Choosing to Submit,” in Marriage Takes More than Love (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1978), 191.

22 Foh, 186.

Related Topics: Marriage, Curriculum