The Obligations of Christian Husbands to Their Wives (1 Peter 3:7)
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered (King James Version).
You husbands likewise, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (NASB).
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers (NIV).
Similarly, you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with, honoring them as physically weaker yet equally heirs with you of the grace of life. If you don’t do this, you will find it impossible to pray properly (Phillips).
In the same way, you husbands must conduct your married life with understanding: pay honour to the woman’s body, not only because it is weaker, but also because you share together in the grace of God which gives you life. Then your prayers will not be hindered (The New English Bible).
In the same way, husbands must always treat their wives with consideration in their life together, respecting a woman as one who, though she may be the weaker partner, is equally an heir to the life of grace. This will stop anything from coming in the way of your prayers (The Jerusalem Bible).
Some years ago I was invited to a gathering of six to eight couples, all of whom shared something in common—they all had either separated or divorced and then come back together as husband and wife. They all shared how their marriages had crumbled and then how they had been reunited after they came to trust in Jesus Christ. It has been about twenty years since that gathering, and to my knowledge no more than one of these couples is still together. I am not even certain that one couple remains.
How can a man and a woman who both believe in Jesus Christ fail to fulfill their calling as a married couple? Why does the divorce rate among Christians differ little from non-Christians? The answer is many-fold. First, Christians have forgotten, ignored, or blatantly rejected our Lord’s teaching on the permanence of marriage. Second, Christian husbands and wives fail to understand and apply the biblical principles governing the practice of both partners in marriage. Third, Christian husbands and wives forget the divine purpose for marriage, and therefore the profound ramifications of failing our responsibilities in marriage. Fourth, Christian couples fail to view their marriage responsibilities in the light of eternity. Christian hope is foundational to a Christian marriage. Fifth, somehow it is mistakenly assumed that the spiritual equality of the husband and the wife wipes out the necessity for the submission of the one mate to the other.
In but one verse, Peter addresses each of these five fundamental dimensions of marriage. I believe I can safely say that where these truths are understood and obeyed, no Christian marriage should fail. For God’s sake, and our own, let us hear and heed these words from the apostle Peter.
We know this verse is a part of a larger passage in which Peter is dealing with the subject of submission, which introduced in chapter 2:
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 [Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17).
From here, Peter goes on to specifically address slaves (2:18-21a) and wives (3:1-6). The example set for all is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the model Suffering Servant (2:21b-25).
The words “in the same way” (3:1) and “likewise” (3:7) are unfortunately different translations of precisely the same term in the original text. They indicate that just as the example of our Lord is the pattern for slaves and Christian wives, it is also the pattern for Christian husbands. When Peter turns to husbands in verse 7, he simply continues the subject of submission he began in chapter 2 and continues to the end of chapter 3. Some unique features of Peter’s instructions to husbands in verse 7 need to be recognized:
(1) This is the only instance in Peter’s discussion of submission thus far in which a reciprocal obligation is specified. Elsewhere when children are instructed to obey their parents, parents are likewise exhorted concerning their responsibilities. When slaves are addressed, so are their masters. This is not so with Peter, except for wives and their husbands.
(2) Elsewhere submission is specifically called for, but here it is required by inference.
(3) In the other instances requiring submission, it is assumed the one submitting is a believer, while the one to whom submission is required may likely be an unbeliever.
(4) Elsewhere the one to whom submission is required is looked upon as the source of suffering for the one who is required to submit.
(5) Elsewhere, the goal of submission is the salvation of the one to whom submission is required. Here, Peter assumes that both the husband and the wife are saved.
(6) Elsewhere, the goal is a public witness to the proclamation of the excellencies of Him who called us to the unbelievers who behold our submission in the midst of suffering. Here, the outcome is an unhindered prayer life of the husband and wife.
(7) Elsewhere, submission is assumed to require silence on the part of the one who submits. Nowhere is the husband specifically called upon to be silent.
(8) Elsewhere, submission is called for on the part of a subordinate to his or her superior. Here, the husband is called upon to submit to one under his authority.
From the various ways this one verse is translated, we see that those who have studied it do not understand it in exactly the same way. Several fundamental decisions have significantly impacted my interpretation of this verse, which I will spell out so you will understand the premises on which my interpretation is founded.98
First, it is my conviction that the text is best explained and applied as rendered in its most strictly literal fashion. The King James Version and the American Standard Version are the most literal translations I have encountered.
Second, there are two principle verbs (actually they are participles) in this verse, and I understand them to provide the two main points of emphasis.
Third, I understand the term “knowledge” to refer, first and foremost, to the knowledge which comes to believers from the Scriptures rather than from other sources.
Fourth, I define the term “to live together with” as it is employed in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). This term has a broad meaning of “living together with” another, without any marital or sexual connotations (Deuteronomy 25:5a99; 24:1). Its most common use is in reference to a man living with a woman as his wife (Genesis 20:3).100 Sometimes there is a more specific reference to sexual intercourse between a husband and his wife (Deuteronomy 22:13; 25:5b). Isaiah 62:5 appears to merge the idea of taking a wife and consummating it with a sexual union.
Fifth, I understand that this verse indicates the wife in view is a Christian and that the prayers referred to are the prayers of the husband and the wife.101
Sixth, I understand the text which most literally translates the original text of 1 Peter 3:7 is the King James Version, which should be outlined as on the following page:
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (King James Version)
Dwelling Together According to Knowledge
We must remember that Peter’s instructions to slaves in chapter 2 and to wives in chapter 3 were not calling for actions radically different from what the culture of that day expected. Slaves were expected to submit to their masters, as wives were expected to submit to their own husbands. The difference was the attitude which motivated this submission and the manner in which this submission was carried out. Wives and slaves might do what they were told, but Peter required something more, a truly submissive spirit which silently accepted suffering for being godly.
When we come to Peter’s words to husbands, there is little common ground between what society expected from Christian husbands and what God required of them. The command to dwell with their wives should be understood in the light of our Lord’s teaching:
3 And [some] Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful [for a man] to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created [them] from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, ‘FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND [her] AWAY?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men [can] accept this statement, but [only] those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are [also] eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept [this,] let him accept [it.”] (Matthew 19:3-12).
Whether liberal or conservative, Jewish religious leaders had a much lower view of marriage than our Lord. All of these leaders, including the disciples, expected a good number of husbands to forsake their marriage vows, divorce their wives, and marry another wife. The question in their mind was not “if” divorce should occur, but only how petty the excuse would have to be to justify the divorce. In this Matthew 19 text, Jesus did not contradict His teaching on divorce elsewhere. There were certain circumstances in which it was allowed. But He is emphatic in this passage that marriage is to be entered into as a permanent commitment. The disciples were shocked. Perhaps, they reasoned, it would be better not to enter into marriage if Jesus’ view of marriage was the standard. Jesus did not back off when the disciples reasoned this way. They should not hastily enter into a marriage commitment which they did not expect to keep for a lifetime.
While the men of Peter’s day could rather easily ease out of one marriage and into another, the same was not true for women. There was therefore no need for Peter to command wives as he does husbands. The command to “dwell with their wives” is but the instruction of our Lord as expressed through His apostles. Although the culture of that day and ours tolerates divorce, Peter instructs Christian husbands to remain in their marriage. Paul agrees, instructing wives not to abandon their marriages and husbands not to divorce:
10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).102
Does a Christian husband feel “abused” by his wife? It certainly can happen, for the Bible indicates the wife can make life miserable for her husband. One way a wife can make her husband suffer is by being unsubmissive—contentious. Another way is by her tongue. Peter certainly addresses these, and we likewise find them dealt with in the Book of Proverbs (see 12:4; 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15). Paul likewise warns husbands of bitterness (Colossians 3:19). Regardless of the “suffering” a husband might think he endures at the hand (or tongue) of his wife, Peter says, “stay with her.”
It is not enough for the husband merely to endure marriage. He must take the “high road” of marriage, the road only a Christian is enabled to walk. Peter instructs husbands to “dwell with” their wives according to knowledge. This expression is very important. As one looks at the various translations, one sees how much difference there is in the way the expression is understood.
But what does Peter want us to understand by this word “knowledge”? Having looked up every use of this term in the New Testament,103 I think it is safe to say its primary emphasis is upon that “knowledge” which is from above, knowledge of Christ, the Gospel, and that which God has revealed, especially as it relates to marriage.104 There are distorted forms of knowledge, but this false knowledge is clearly indicated (Romans 2:20; 1 Timothy 6:20).
Most significant is the way Peter uses this term “knowledge” in his second epistle:
4 Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence … 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in [your] knowledge, self-control, and in [your] self-control, perseverance, and in [your] perseverance, godliness (2 Peter 1:3, 5-6).105
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).
The principle thrust of Peter’s command to husbands, therefore, is this: Husbands, keep on living with your wives in accordance with that knowledge which you now have as Christians. Further evidence in support of this emphasis on Scriptural knowledge can be seen in Peter’s description of our condition before salvation as being “ignorant:”
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15).
What is this knowledge which should govern the way Christian husbands live with their wives? Peter mentions several specific aspects of this knowledge. First, we are to live with our wives in the knowledge that we are to subordinate our own selfish desires to the benefit and blessing of our wives, as Christ did for the Church. Peter has already referred to this in chapter 2, verses 21-25, and points to it by the word “likewise” in 1 Peter 3:7. Paul even more pointedly points to the way in which our Lord’s love for His church is to be the pattern for the husband’s relationship with his wife:
22 Wives, [be subject] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ought to be] to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also [does] the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and [let] the wife [see to it] that she respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33).
The knowledge which should govern the conduct of the Christian husband and wife is not knowledge known to mankind in general. Paul tells us it is a mystery (Ephesians 5:32). Thus, the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 3) is the knowledge which instructs us concerning Christian marriage.
Secondly, we are to recognize that some aspects of marriage are matters of mutual submission. Other revelation regarding Christian marriage which we find in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians appears to compliment Peter’s words to husbands in our text.
3 Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband [does]; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife [does.] 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
Paul, like Peter, points out a very practical connection between the sexual relationship of a husband and wife to their prayer life, which we will consider later in the lesson. But it is very interesting that Paul does not speak of the sexual union between a husband and his wife only in terms of the wife’s submission to her husband, but rather in terms of the mutual submission of both the husband and the wife. The husband does have authority over his wife’s body, but so also the wife has authority over his body. It is not a one-sided submission, but a mutual submission.
This is not to say the relationship between a husband and his wife is entirely governed by mutual submission, so that the headship of the husband over his wife is denied or nullified. It simply says that in the Christian marriage, some matters are governed by mutual submission, while others are governed by the submission of the wife to the authority of her husband. Even when the husband is in authority, his obligation is to relate to his wife as Christ loved the church, using His authority and power to minister to her for her benefit and blessing.
I understand Peter’s words to include the sexual dimensions of marriage.106 From the use of this expression (“to dwell together with”) in the Old Testament (Septuagint), I understand Peter to be referring not only to the fact that the husband lives with his wife, but that the husband persists in fulfilling his responsibilities as a husband, which includes the sexual intimacy the husband is expected to maintain with his wife. I believe this is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 7.
Some would favor the view that Peter’s words here refer primarily to the husband’s knowledge of his wife, of her weaknesses, her needs, her uniqueness as a woman and as an individual. While this kind of knowledge is important for the husband to minister to his wife, I do not think Peter’s emphasis lies here. This, in my opinion, is a secondary matter, while biblical knowledge is primary. I therefore seem to differ with Edmund Clowney’s emphasis, but not in a way that rejects the point he makes:
“Does Peter mean knowledge of the wife, or knowledge of God and his calling? The close connection with the description of the wife as the weaker partner favors the specific sense: the husband must dwell with his wife as one who knows her needs, who recognizes the delicacy of her nature and feelings. On the other hand, Peter has warned against ‘the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (1;14). Knowledge of God distinguishes Christian love from pagan lust. That saving knowledge enables the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.”107
Granting Honor to the Wife
Not only is the husband to live with his wife according to knowledge, he is also instructed to grant honor to his wife. The noun “honor” is found here in 1 Peter as well as in 2:7 and then in 2 Peter 1:17. The verb, “to honor,” is used twice by Peter in 1 Peter 2:
Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:17).
To honor someone is to attribute value to them, to esteem them as having value. To dishonor someone is to view them as having little, lesser, or no value (see Matthew 5:22; James 2:1-6). Honor often has to do with value, but it also has to do with importance. Submission is evidenced when we consider the interests of another more important than self-interest (see Philippians 2:3-8). The husband is not to submit to his wife in the sense of subordinating himself to her authority, but he is to submit to her in the sense that he highly values her and subordinates his selfish interests to her well-being.
It would be safe to say that in the world of Peter’s day (not to exclude our own) wives were not honored by their husbands. The honoring of one’s wife was foreign to that culture, as it is in our day. The reasons for honoring one’s wife are even more foreign. Peter sets down two reasons why a Christian husband should honor his wife. First, he should honor her as the weaker vessel. Second, he should honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life. Let us consider each of these areas of honor.
Husbands are to grant their wives honor as the weaker vessel. If we are to understand and obey Peter’s teaching we must first understand what Peter means when he refers to the woman as the weaker vessel. Furthermore, we must also grasp how a husband can and should honor his wife as the weaker vessel.
The term “vessel” is used in various ways. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 Paul seems to use the term vessel in reference to the human body. Whether that be of the man or of his wife is a matter of discussion in this particular instance, but it is not crucial for our study. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul writes that the treasure of the gospel is contained in “earthen vessels.” Again, he seems to be referring to the human body. Both husbands and wives are “vessels” and while the man is “weak” the woman is the “weaker” of the two.
Just what is this “weakness” to which Peter refers? It is worthwhile to note that Peter does not precisely define just how the woman is the weaker vessel. The term “weak” is used often of physical sicknesses and infirmities which weaken the body. While we can all agree that, in general, women are not physically as strong as men, this does not seem to be Peter’s primary meaning. Weakness is also used in a more general way in the New Testament, which I think is more in line with Peter’s meaning. Consider these texts:
27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).
21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those [members] of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly [members come to] have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly [members] have no need [of it.] But God has [so] composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that [member] which lacked (1 Corinthians 12:21-24).
And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive [literally, weak], and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
The “weakness” to which Peter refers are not so much a weakness with which a woman is born, but that role or position of weakness to which she submits, in obedience to the Word of God. To be weak is to lack power and prominence. For a woman to submit to her husband, to be silent and have a gentle and quiet spirit (as taught in 3:1-6) is to be weak in the eyes of the world. The husband is to honor his wife because she has been divinely appointed to assume the “weaker” role.
How then does the husband honor his wife as the weaker vessel? If the responsibility of the wife is to give priority to her inner beauty rather than to outward adornment, it is the husband’s duty to honor his wife, to promote her well-being and praise. In submission to His Father, our Lord sought only to obey and not to promote His own glory but the glory of the Father. The Father is the One who promotes the glory of the Son (see Philippians 2:3-11). The husband of the godly woman of Proverbs is “known in the gates” of the city, because of his wife (31:23). But it certainly seems that he proclaims the praises of his wife in the gates (31:31). In Ephesians 5, the husband is to imitate Christ’s relationship to the church by his relationship to his wife. Christ is then said not only to have given Himself sacrificially for the church, but He is actively at work to perfect and beautify His bride:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-28a).
Should the husband therefore not be seeking to glorify the wife, even as she seeks to bring glory to him (see also 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, especially verses 7, 15)?
The same principle seems evident in relation to spiritual gifts. Some members of the body, some gifts, do not seem to be as significant as others. They seem weaker, and so we bestow greater honor on them. We seek to exalt and enhance them (1 Corinthians 12:20-25). So the husband honors his wife as the weaker vessel by seeking to exalt and elevate her.
What a wonderful thing submission is in marriage! The wife seeks to glorify her husband, but submits to him. The husband uses his leadership to “glorify” his wife as he exercises leadership over her in a way that sacrifices his personal interests to bring about the best interests of his bride.
We see another illustration of how we honor those who are weaker in the Scriptures in Romans 14 (also see 1 Corinthians 8-10). There Paul instructs us concerning our conduct in relationship to a “weaker brother.” A weaker brother is one who does not understand the Scriptures so well as to understand certain areas of personal liberty. Neither does he or she have the faith to do the things a “stronger” brother can do in good faith. The stronger brother honors the weaker brother by refraining from practicing his liberty so that the weaker brother is not made to stumble in his faith.
I have only recently begun to appreciate this area. My wife and I have counseled a number of couples preparing for marriage, but only recently have I begun to warn husbands to be careful to use their authority in such a way as not to force or pressure their wives to do something contrary to her convictions. The principles of Romans 14 apply as much to husbands and wives as they do to anyone else in the church.
Here we can see the true spirit of submission. True submission does not exercise strength at the expense of the weak, but rather refrains for the benefit of the weak. In the world, men use their strength to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the weak. In the Christian faith, the strong employ their strength in such a way as to edify the weak:
14 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves (Romans 15:1; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
The Christian husband seeks to discover the weaknesses of his wife, not so that he may use these to his advantage but to employ his strength in compensating for her weakness. This kind of spirit guards the husband from misappropriating his authority so as to rule with an iron fist over his wife. This kind of servant leadership causes the Christian husband to stand apart and above unbelieving husbands, who do not live with their wives according to knowledge but according to their ignorance.
There is a second basis for the honor the Christian husband is to grant his wife. This is her position as a “fellow heir of the grace of life.” I do not understand Peter to be talking about a husband and wife sharing physical life here, but rather to be talking about spiritual life. First Peter is not only about suffering; it is also about hope, our future hope:
13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13; see also 1:3-12, etc.)
Peter has been explaining how the Christian’s hope changes his perspective on suffering.108 The Christian’s hope makes him an alien and a stranger on this earth. The suffering we experience in this life is short and sweet compared to our eternal glory, especially when we understand that our suffering benefits us, glorifies God, and may lead to the salvation of others. And so it is that we can submit to government authorities, slaves can submit to cruel masters, and wives to unbelieving husbands.
But now Peter shows how the Christian husband’s hope should change his attitudes and actions toward his wife. For a short time the wife is subject to her husband in this life. But in eternity it will not be this way at all. For all eternity there will be no distinction between slave and free, rich and poor, male and female. Husbands are to view marriage in terms of eternity:
29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. 30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:29-30).
29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
The Sadducees of Jesus’ day (and I suspect many other Jews) thought heaven was going to simply be a continuation of things the way they have been on earth. Jesus shocked them by telling them things would be very different in heaven. There would be no marrying in heaven. The husband-wife relationship is temporal, not eternal. This is why Paul urged those who were single to seriously contemplate staying single, and why he instructed those who are married to live as though they are not.
So far as what awaits Christian husbands and wives, there is no difference in heaven. The roles which husbands and wives are to fulfill in this life will be left behind when we enter into the hope of heaven. Christian husbands, therefore, cannot look on their wives as unbelievers do, for they look upon their wives only in terms of the present time and culture. Christian husbands must look upon their wives in the light of their ultimate possession and their present status as joint heirs of this possession.
The goal of Christ’s suffering was our salvation (1 Peter 2:21-25). The goal of the wife’s submission in suffering is the salvation of her husband (3:1-2). The goal for the Christian husband’s conduct in relation to his wife is unhindered prayer.
7b So that your prayers may not be hindered.
Peter speaks here of the relationship of a Christian husband and his believing wife. It is also my understanding that Peter is speaking of all the prayers of the husband and the wife—their individual prayers, but most particularly those prayers which they engage in together (see also 1 Corinthians 7:5).109
Peter is applying a more general principle to the relationship of a husband and his wife in marriage. That general principle is: Broken or injured relationships between Christians hinder them in their interaction with God. Loving God and loving men sums up the Old Testament Law (see Matthew 22:34-40). If our relation-ship with others is strained, it would seem to create problems in our relationship with God (see Matthew 6:14-15). Our strained relationship with a brother must be reconciled before we conduct our worship:
23 “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
In a similar fashion, when the relationship between a husband and his wife is strained, it hinders our communion and fellowship with God, and thus the prayer life of a couple is paralyzed by the sin of one or both partners. When there is conflict between believers, it is often due to their pursuit of self-interest rather than a mutual submission to each other. In such cases, our prayers are both misdirected and unanswered:
1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).
Peter instructs Christian husbands to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate “Suffering Servant” (1 Peter 2:21-25). They are to do so by manifesting the servanthood of Christ toward their wives, just as Christ demonstrated His servanthood toward the church. Our Lord did not cling to His elevated status over men and demand that men serve Him. Instead, He became the servant and the Savior of men:
4 Do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:4-8).
The husband should not endeavor to “use” his headship over his wife for his own fulfillment or satisfaction but should use it as a means of serving his wife. Rather than demanding honor from his wife, he should grant honor to her. And this should be done not only when she is obedient and fulfilling her responsibilities. It should be done even when the wife is failing to be and to do all that our Lord has required of her. Christ’s humbling did not occur when we were “strong,” when we were obedient, but when we were enslaved to sin, helpless and hopeless on our own:
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:6-10).
In chapter 2, Peter turned our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ as the model servant, whose silent and sacrificial suffering brought about our own salvation. Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:22-33. The cross is not only the pattern for Christian marriage, it is the basis. Only the husband who has the “mind of Christ” will, like Christ, persistently seek to serve his wife at the cost of personal sacrifice. It is only through the grace of God in Christ that this can be done.
The “weakness” of the wife is the context for the husband’s servanthood. He lives with his wife at the deepest level of intimacy, and thus the weaknesses of the wife will be most apparent to him. The problem is that our fallen nature inclines us to capitalize on our wife’s weaknesses to enhance our own position and power. How many husbands have you heard publicly expose some weakness of his wife, often with sarcasm?
The weaknesses of the wife should be recognized and responded to by the husband as an opportunity for ministry, but often they are not. One reason this is true is because the wife’s weaknesses may be directed against the husband. When the wife fails to live up to her high calling as a Christian wife, she often strikes out at the one who is nearest—her husband. And so we can see how the husband may be “abused” and in his suffering as a husband may toy with the temptation of giving up or of getting out. The times when we most need to minister to our wives are those times when we will likely least desire to do so. This is why obedience to Christ’s commands can only be done through His power. He is the One who causes us both to “will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Peter’s instructions to us as husbands requires that we first have a personal relationship with Him who suffered and died on our behalf (1 Peter 2:21-25). Then it is essential that we know the Scriptures, for it is only by the knowledge God has revealed in His Word that we can “dwell with” our wives in a way that pleases Him and honors the one God has joined together with us in marriage. We must not allow our position and its authority to harden us so that we become calloused and insensitive to the weaknesses of our wives, for only in recognizing those weaknesses can we respond as we should as servants and minister to those needs.
Finally, we must also be aware of the danger that especially exists in our culture of abusing Peter’s teaching here. It is one thing for a husband to be a servant to his wife by knowing and ministering to the weaknesses of his wife; it is quite another for her to expect and even demand that he “meet her needs,” as she defines them. The feminist movement and the essence of its emphasis might be symbolized by a female Arnold Swartzenager, standing with clenched fists and demanding, “Go ahead, meet my needs!”
Our weaknesses are more evident to those close to us than they are to us. That is why they are weaknesses; they are blind spots. If we were keenly aware of them, they would not be the problem they are. And so the one with the weakness may not be the one who informs us of their true needs. This does not at all suggest we should not listen carefully and sensitively to our wives or to other believers. It is simply to say that the weaknesses of the weak believer are most readily apparent to the one who is strong in that area.
We see this especially true in the area of spiritual gifts. The one who is weak in teaching is most apparent to the one with the gift of teaching. The one who is weak in evangelism is most apparent to the evangelist. And so let us beware of looking only to our mate to learn what their true needs are. This is where the entire body of Christ may begin to play a very necessary and needed role. It is where counsel may need to be sought from others. Let us seek to minister to true weakness, but let us also remember that this is but one aspect of our responsibility to others. As Paul once wrote:
14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Sometimes it is not encouragement that is needed, but help. Sometimes it is not help that is needed, but admonition. Let us minister to true needs, to the good of our mate, and to the glory of God.
As we conclude, let us remember that these principles, which Peter has applied to husbands in the context of their relationship with their wives, apply in general to all relationships in the church.
We are all to live together in unity and harmony:
(A Song of Ascents, of David.) Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1)
12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 And beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms [and] hymns [and] spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:12-17; see Ephesians 4:1ff.; Philippians 2:1-8; 1 Peter 3:8-12, etc.).
We are to live together according to knowledge:
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard [of it], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please [Him] in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10; see Ephesians 4:1-24).
We are to grant honor one to another:
17 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10; see also 1 Peter 2:17).
We are to minister to the weaknesses of one another:
1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification (Romans 15:1-2).
1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; [each one] looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).
May God grant that all of us would seek to live toward one another as Peter has directed Christian husbands to live in relationship to their wives, to His glory, and for our ultimate good.
(1) Is Peter talking to “abused husbands” suffering at the hand (or mouth) of their wives? If so, what is the abuse, and how does Peter’s instruction directly deal with it? If these husbands are abused, why is a Christian wife seemingly referred to, rather than an unbelieving mate? If the husbands are not looked upon as “abused,” why are husbands addressed in this context, with the same term which introduced his instruction to wives (“in the same way,” 3:1)?
(2) In the command to “dwell with them according to knowledge,” is the emphasis on “living with” or on “according to knowledge,” or both? What do the expressions “dwell with,” “according to knowledge,” “giving honour,” “as the weaker vessel,” and “being heirs together of the grace of life” mean?
(3) In what sense is the wife a “weaker vessel”? How and why does the husband give her honour as a weaker vessel?
(4) How does not obeying Peter’s instruction result in the hindering of prayers? Whose prayers are hindered? Are these the prayers of the husbands, of the wives, of husbands and wives separately, or of husbands and wives together?
(5) What parallel texts, if any, do we have to help us here?
99 This first instance in Deuteronomy 25:5 refers to two brothers who live in the same place. When the first brother dies, the second, who lives nearby, is to take the widow as his wife in order to raise up seed for his deceased brother.
102 The terms used for the wife’s departure from her husband and the husband’s divorcing of his wife are not the same in this text, suggesting at least that divorce was more an option for the husband, while separation was the alternative open to the wife.
103 Luke 1:77; 11:52; Romans 2;20; 11:33; 15:14; 1 Corinthians 1:5; 8:1, 10, 11; 12:8; 13:2, 8; 14:6; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 4:6; 6:6; 8:7; 10:5; 11:6; Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 3:8; Colossians 2:3; 1 Timothy 6:20; 1 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 1:5, 6; 3:18.
104 “With an intelligent recognition of the nature of the marriage relation.” Vincent, as cited by A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), vol. VI, p. 110.
106 Some go too far in this. Edmund Clowney, for example, takes the expression, “dwelling together according to knowledge,” as referring especially to the sexual relationship of the husband and the wife: “The expression describing their living together is not limited to sexual intimacy, but it has particular reference to it. In all their life together, and particularly in their sexual union, the husband is to relate to his wife ‘according to knowledge’.” Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press), 1988. The Bible Speaks Today Series. pp. 133-134.
109 There are those who think it is only the husbands’ prayers which are in view here. For example, William Barclay cites Bigg: “As Bigg puts it: ‘The sighs of the injured wife come between the husband’s prayers and God’s hearing.’” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series. P. 224. I do not think this conforms to the spirit of this text or to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:5.