13. A Word to Wives (1 Peter 3:1-6)
1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
3 And let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
Although today is Mother’s Day, I did not plan to preach on this text; in fact, I would have been tempted to avoid this text. If we are perfectly honest, we would have to admit most Mother’s Day sermons are dishonest. Always positive, affirming, sentimental, perhaps untruthful, they sound as though every marriage in the church is unending heavenly bliss, and that every mother is a perfect blend of Mother Theresa, Betty Crocker, and Brooke Shields. If only marriages were year-round what they appear to be on Mother’s Day.
Peter is a man in touch with reality who knows that marriages are not heaven on earth. Like every other human institution, and indeed all creation, marriages too suffer from the adverse affects of the fall. Suffering and groaning (see Romans 8:18-25) are experienced in marriage as in every other aspect of life. Peter assumes there will be suffering in marriage, especially for those Christians who choose to live godly lives. Here, as elsewhere, we will be evil spoken of because of our good deeds (1 Peter 2:12).
Because of the fallen world we live in and the sin nature which exists in our flesh, Christian marriages are susceptible to the same maladies as non-Christian marriages. Peter knows that suffering for the sake of Christ will not only be the lot of Christian citizens living under the authority of heathen political leaders, and slaves under the authority of their human masters, but also wives who are subject to their husbands.
William Barclay, who writes of marriage as it existed in Peter’s day, helps us appreciate the improved lot of women today and also helps us understand why Peter assumes husbands in his day may be abusive to their wives, especially godly wives married to unbelieving husbands.82
In every sphere of ancient civilization, women had no rights at all. Under Jewish law a woman was a thing; she was owned by her husband in exactly the same way as he owned his sheep and his goats; on no account could she leave him, although he could dismiss her at any moment. For a wife to change her religion while her husband did not was unthinkable.
In Greek civilization the duty of the woman was ‘to remain indoors and to be obedient to her husband.’ It was the sign of a good woman that she must see as little, hear as little and ask as little as possible. She had no kind of independent existence and no kind of mind of her own, and her husband could divorce her almost at caprice, so long as he returned her dowry.
Under Roman law a woman had no rights. In law she remained for ever a child. When she was under her father she was under the patira potestas, the father’s power, which gave the father the right even of life and death over her; and when she married she passed equally into the power of her husband. She was entirely subject to her husband and completely at his mercy. Cato the Censor, the typical ancient Roman, wrote: ‘If you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you can kill her with impunity without a trial.’ Roman matrons were prohibited from drinking wine, and Egnatius beat his wife to death when he found her doing so. Sulpicius Gallus dismissed his wife because she had once appeared in the streets without a veil. Antistius Vetus divorced his wife because he saw her secretly speaking to a freed woman in public. Publius Sempronius Sophus divorced his wife because once she went to the public games. The whole attitude of ancient civilization was that no woman could dare take any decision for herself.83
The culture of Peter’s day and the culture of our own day are worlds apart. They could hardly be more different as far as marriage and the place of women is concerned. When Peter commanded wives to be subject to their husbands, this command came as no surprise. Submission was exactly what was expected of wives. Plutarch once put it this way:
So it is with women also; if they subordinate themselves to their husbands, they are commended, but if they want to have control, they cut a sorrier figure than the subjects of their control. And control ought to be exercised by the men over the women, not as the owner has control over a piece of property, but, as the soul controls the body, by entering into her feelings and being knit to her through goodwill.84
In our society, Peter’s instruction to wives to submit to their husbands is totally foreign and repugnant to the feminist movement outside or inside the church. One contemporary commentator clearly suggests Peter’s words are definitely not for us but for another day and time:
The basic command to submission sounds strange to modern Western readers, and so it must be understood in its first-century and early Christian context. Submission to the husband was the custom of the time. For Jews it was based on the stories of the Creation and Fall where the woman, originally created to be a helper for the man (Gen 2:20), is cursed by the pain of childbirth and submission to the rule of her husband (Gen 3:16).
In contrast, the Christian gospel emphasized that in the new situation brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28). Paul expresses the equality of husband and wife in as fundamental a matter as their physical sexual relationships (1 Cor. 7:3-4). He also stresses that they are mutually dependent (1 Cor. 11:11-12). This teaching clearly shows that the effects of the Fall are undone in the new creation that is manifested in the church.
Consequently, a new evaluation of the roles of husband and wife was bound to arise. With the new freedom that Christians enjoyed in Christ, there also inevitably arose the temptation to carry things to excess, trespassing the bounds of social propriety at that time.… Peter reminds wives, therefore, to submit to their husbands; that is, to consider his needs and to fulfill them.85
By these comments, Howard Marshall seems to be questioning the biblical imperative that wives should be subject to their husbands. He appears to restrict the imperative to the Old Testament age and not to this age. He seems to imply that the only reason wives were commanded to submit to their husbands was because the culture of that day expected them to submit. If I am correct in my assessment of Marshall’s comments (and I certainly hope I am not), then Peter’s words will be more difficult for us to accept than for the Christian wives of his day. Women were thought of as inferior to men, and so submission was but the lot of women. In our culture, many women are demanding that we treat them as equals, and they bristle at the mere mention of the word “submit.”
Before we allow our emotional juices to flow on this issue, let us hear Peter through, not only in his instructions to wives but also in his instructions to women. I think we will find things are not as bad as we suppose. But we must also be ready and willing to live in a way that dramatically differs from that of our contemporaries to the glory of God.
It is difficult indeed for Twentieth Century Americans to identify with the setting of our text. The conversion of a wife to faith in Christ presents both the husband and the wife with considerable difficulties. The wife finds a whole new identity in Christ. While she is still dependent on her husband in some ways, she now is a member of the body of Christ, the church. From the church, she receives the ministry of other members in the body as well as sharing from her own gifts and abilities. She finds instruction, encouragement, and even correction from the church. Even if he were a believer, her husband cannot meet all of the spiritual needs of his wife. But an unbeliever cannot contribute spiritually because he neither welcomes nor grasps spiritual truths (see 1 Corinthians 2 and 3). The unbelieving husband would have to be regarded as “ignorant,” as far as matters of the faith are concerned (see 1 Peter 1:14; 2:15).
The woman who was formerly totally dependent upon her husband is now less so because she is a Christian. She might be tempted to seek counsel and guidance from Christians rather than to receive direction from her husband. The non-Christian husband would understandably find his wife’s new faith very threatening. A wife who did not seek to scrupulously follow Peter’s instructions could make matters even worse. It is no wonder that Peter writes to such women.
It would be wrong to state or imply Peter was writing only or even primarily to Christian wives married to unbelieving men. Peter’s instructions to husbands in verse 7 assumes their wives are believers. As in his instructions to slaves, Peter wants to be clear that his instructions apply even to the worst cases. The worst case would be a Christian wife married to an unbelieving husband hostile toward Christianity. If such a person were obligated to follow Peter’s instructions, all other wives would certainly be expected to obey them.
It would be further incorrect to assume Peter is speaking only to Christian wives in our text. Peter’s words are pertinent to all of us because we are all commanded to submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21; see Philippians 2:1-8; 1 Peter 3:8-12). His specific instructions to individuals in specific circumstances are illustrative of what submission is and how it works out in our lives. Peter has chosen to address citizens, servants (or slaves), wives, and husbands because these categories cover virtually all of us, at least once, and likely even more often. Even in the midst of instruction addressed to a particular group, more general application is called for (see 1 Peter 2:15-17, 19, etc.).
The specific sins of which Peter warns Christian wives are not peculiar only to wives. We might call these “besetting sins” (see Hebrews 12:1), those sins particularly tempting for wives. John the Baptist identified specific sins which characterized tax-collectors and soldiers (Luke 3:10-14), but they were not sins committed only by tax-collectors and soldiers. In the second chapter of his epistle to Titus, Paul identified dangerous areas for specific groups, but this in no way suggested the same sins might be a temptation for others. So too Peter’s warnings to wives are not restricted only to wives but should be taken seriously by every Christian.
The Structure of the Text
First Peter 3:1-6 seems to divide evenly into three sections with each containing two verses. Verses 1 and 2 dwell on the silence which should characterize wives whose husbands are both lost and hostile to the faith. Verses 3 and 4 deal with the woman’s attitude toward adornment. Verses 5 and 6 turn our attention to the example of godly women in the Old Testament, especially Sarah.
These three segments are closely related to each other, each one following up on a thought introduced by the previous one. While wives are urged to be silent in verse 1, their chaste and respectful behavior is to be evident (verse 2). This leads Peter to focus on the inward beauty of the wife, which has priority over mere outward beauty. The principle of the priority of inner beauty over external adornment (verses 3 and 4) is then illustrated by Peter in verses 5 and 6 where he turns our attention to Sarah.
When Silence is Golden
1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won86 without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
The expression “in the same way” indicates a continuation of thought from the previous verses to these words addressed to wives.87 The previous passage was addressed to servants or slaves, and they were commanded to be submissive to their masters, including those who were abusive. Their suffering was for living righteously, and it was to be endured silently. The example set before them was our Lord, the ultimate “Suffering Servant,” whose suffering was innocently and silently endured.
Now Peter’s word to wives begins with the expression “in the same way,” indicating that their conduct is to be Christ-like, for they too are to suffer innocently and silently. And this is precisely what Peter requires. They, like slaves and like our Lord, were to be in submission. As our Lord submitted to the will of His Father (see Philippians 2:8), and as slaves are to submit to their masters, wives are to submit as well.
Christian wives are instructed to submit to their own husbands. They are not to submit to another man nor are they instructed to submit themselves to men in general. They are to be in submission to their own husbands. The goal of their submission, like our Lord, is first of all obedience to God and secondly the salvation of men.88 From verse 7 in chapter 2, we learn that when Peter speaks of being “disobedient to the word” he means that these husbands are unsaved. They have rejected the gospel. In such cases, the conduct of the wife should be such that the husband is saved not by the wife’s speech but by her silence.
It is not as though anyone can be saved without hearing the gospel (see Romans 10:9-15). I infer from Peter’s words that the husband has heard the gospel and chosen to reject it. I further understand Peter to imply that the husband, whether by word or deed, has indicated he wishes to hear no more of the word. If this is the case, let the husband see the word as his wife lives it out in the context of their marriage.
Here is the real test. Can the wife trust God to save her husband by her silence? What does Peter mean by the expression “without a word”? I am convinced he is not speaking about the “silent treatment” which one mate may impose on the other as a form of punishment. Peter is speaking here of silence as it pertains to the gospel. The subject of the gospel should be cheerfully and pleasantly dropped once the husband has made it clear he has heard enough.
What kinds of speech should be silenced then? In general, the subject of the gospel should be dropped, once it has been communicated to the husband and he has chosen to reject it and resisted discussing it. I believe several forms of speech could be cited as examples of the kind of speech Peter seeks to silence.
First, Peter surely forbids a wife to nag her husband with the gospel. This can be blatant or subtle, but it is nevertheless something the husband is keenly aware of and strongly resists. Proverbs indicates that this tendency to nag is one which tempts us all, but especially the wife.
A foolish son is destruction to his father, And the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping (Proverbs 19:13).
Second, Peter forbids debate. While nagging may be one method one might use to persuade another, arguing is another. Nagging, by my definition, is simply trying to wear another down by repeating the same things over and over (some folks even try this on God in their prayer life, see Matthew 6:7). Debate is the effort to change another’s mind by continually approaching the discussion from a different point of view, by trying any and every line of argument.
Third, Peter forbids those subtle forms of persuasion which may produce natural responses but fail to produce supernatural conversion. Jesus warned about carefully prepared presentations of the gospel rather than a reliance upon the Holy Spirit (Luke 21:12-15). The apostle Paul is especially sensitive to human forms of persuasion, which he sees as contrary to the way the Spirit works to convince and convert the lost (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
In 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude, we are warned about false teachers who appeal to fleshly lusts rather than the impulses of the Spirit. I believe a woman may have an even greater danger in this area than men. Women may seek to use flattery to persuade and may even employ seductive wiles on her husband.
To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words (Proverbs 2:16). To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress (Proverbs 6:24).
Delilah’s seduction was the downfall of Samson. One does not seduce another into the kingdom of God, though some most certainly seduce others into error (see Revelation 2:20-22). Using this kind of speech may not be offensive to her husband, but it is certainly inconsistent with the gospel.
Peter’s instruction is not merely negative, forbidding Christian wives to verbally pressure their husbands to come to faith in Christ. Rather, in place of her words, wives are to witness to their husbands through their works. Husbands should be able to observe that their wives are different than they were before they came to faith. They should especially be characterized by a behavior which is chaste and respectful. The remaining four verses spell out the meaning of these words, but let us at least come to a preliminary definition of them.
The word “respectful” is literally “fear” as the marginal note in the New American Standard Bible indicates. The “fear” called for here seems to be the wife’s “fear” or respect for her husband rather than her fear of God, though both are certainly required of her (see 1 Peter 1:17; 2:17; Ephesians 5:33).
The word “chaste” is employed a number of times in the New Testament, often with a meaning broader than just sexual purity.89 However, here I believe sexual purity is a prominent part of Peter’s meaning.90 A wife may influence her husband in many ways to control or at least manipulate him. Making your husband jealous is one way which is often considered not only clever but acceptable. Chastity is pressed beyond its limits when this form of manipulation is practiced. In some cases, the wife may not wish to control her husband as much as to gain the attention and admiration or another man. This is also clearly out of bounds. The wife’s feminine charms are for the glory and enjoyment of her husband and no other. Peter calls the wife to live by the highest moral standards, not merely by those of the culture in which she lives.
The Ultimate Beauty
3 And let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;91 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
The problem of looking on outward appearances is not restricted only to women:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God [sees] not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15; see also Matthew 6:1ff.).
In both the Old and New Testaments, however, outward adornment became an obsession and therefore a matter for rebuke and instruction:
16 Moreover, the LORD said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud, and walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, and go along with mincing steps, and tinkle the bangles on their feet, 17 therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, and the LORD will make their foreheads bare.” 18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of [their] anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, 20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, 23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans, and veils. 24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. 25 Your men will fall by the sword, and your mighty ones in battle (Isaiah 3:16-25).
9 Likewise, [I want] women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
In the days in which Peter lived, those with the means to do so went to great extremes in dress, cosmetics, and hair styling to look good to others:
Ornate hairstyles were prevalent in the high society of the Roman world:
‘Curl climbs on top of curl and over the forehead there arose something which at its best looked like the chef d’oeuvre of a master pastry cook and, at its worst, like a dry sponge. At the back the hair was plaited, and the braids arranged in a coil which looks like basketwork.’92
While outward appearances affect every believer, male or female (see Matthew 6; and 23:5-6), Peter particularly instructs married women about their priorities concerning true beauty. There is nothing wrong with dressing in a way that pleases one’s mate. It is no sin to be well-dressed (see Proverbs 31:22). But it is wrong to be preoccupied with outward appearances at the expense of inward beauty. A beautiful woman who lacks inner beauty and character is, according to Proverbs, like a pig with a gold ring in its nose.
[As] a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, [So is] a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (Proverbs 11:22).
Not only is it wrong for a woman (or a man) to place too high a value on external appearances, it is likewise evil to seek man’s approval rather than to strive to please God. That which pleases God is a “gentle and quiet spirit.” This is hardly the contemporary estimate of the ideal woman. Our culture teaches women to practice assertiveness and aggressiveness and outer beauty, rather than to acquire a gentle and quiet spirit.
Why is modest apparel and a “gentle and quiet spirit” pleasing to God? What does this have to do with submission, the major topic of our text? Biblical submission is more than most Christians think. Many Christians are resistant to the biblical teaching of the submission of the wife to her husband. And even those who accept this teaching may think of submission primarily in terms of obeying their husband, of following his leadership.
The submission of the wife to her husband certainly includes honoring him and obeying him, whether this is popular thought or not. But the submission of the wife to her husband is much more than this. Creation requires the submission of the wife to her husband (1 Corinthians 11:7-12), as does the fall (Genesis 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:12-15). It is necessitated by the picture marriage is to portray about the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). It is to demonstrate the headship of Christ over the church (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).
The headship of Christ involves more than His authority and rule over the church. It includes the fact that He is the source of the church, that the church was brought forth through Him. It also involves the supremacy and preeminence of Christ. The glory is to be His, not ours. We are here for His glory. The glory of God must be one of our guiding goals and principles (1 Corinthians 10:31).
When the woman ceases to act with a “quiet and gentle spirit,” she begins to promote herself and bring attention to herself. Rather than being the glory of her husband, she steals the glory from him. The same is true of her attire. She may never utter a word publicly, but she may dress in a way which causes every eye to be fixed on her. To do so is to cast aside the headship of her husband and the submission required of her. No wonder Peter and Paul speak of a woman’s dress and demeanor.
But a woman can attract just as much attention to herself by looking sloppy and unkempt as she can by being “dressed to kill.” Whenever a woman attracts attention to herself rather than to her husband, she has failed to grasp and obey the biblical teaching on submission.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells [them,] And supplies belts to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband [also,] and he praises her, [saying:] 29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, [But] a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:23-31).
The Example of Holy Women of Old
5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.93
A “gentle and quiet spirit” is totally the opposite of the spirit of the contentious wife of Proverbs (see Proverbs 21:9, 19). The spirit or disposition which underlies submission is of crucial importance. Peter turns our attention to the “holy women of old,” not to remind us of how they dressed but to point to their submissive spirit, their source of true beauty. Notice these women were submissive to their “own” husbands, not because their trust was in their husbands but because their hope was in God. They trusted God to work through their husbands and to work in spite of them. Their hope, like every Old Testament saint (see Hebrews 11), was not in this life but in the kingdom of God to come. Their hope was in God alone who would bring it to pass.
Sarah is the one woman Peter identifies by name. Quite frankly, I would never have picked Sarah for she always seemed to be a kind of feminine counterpart to Lot. As I read Genesis 16 and 21, I find Sarah a little hard to like. She, like Lot and every other saint, was not a perfect saint. But she did exemplify the submissive spirit of which Peter speaks.
Peter refers to Sarah calling Abraham “lord,” as recorded the one time in Genesis:
9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold, in the tent.” 10 And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear [a child,] when I am [so] old?’ 14 “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 Sarah denied [it] however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh” (Genesis 18:9-15).
Sarah may have called Abraham lord at other times, but this instance is especially noteworthy. Peter has been contrasting inner beauty with outer adornment and the beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” This passage in Genesis illustrates Sarah’s spirit.
The angels have come to Abraham’s camp and been invited to stay for a meal. They then announce to Abraham that at this time next year Sarah will have a son. Sarah seems to have been eavesdropping, for when she heard the prophecy of a son, she laughed to herself. The words recorded in Genesis 18:12 are the words Sarah thought to herself. She did not speak them aloud, although the Lord was aware that she laughed inwardly.
Most of us speak respectfully to someone’s face, even if hypocritically. But Sarah spoke to herself calling Abraham “lord,” indicating the way she really thought of him. In her mind, Abraham was not “the old man,” but her master, her lord. And she, as it were, was his servant. In her heart, she was submissive to her husband, which made her a beautiful woman and an example for all to follow.
Abraham is sometimes referred to as the “father” of those who believe in Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile by birth (see Romans 4:11-12; Galatians 3:7, 16, 29; Hebrews 2:16). Here, Sarah is called the “mother” of all those women who walk in her footsteps and who respect and obey their husbands: “and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”
If I understand the passage correctly, “without being frightened by any fear” parallels the earlier expression of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” Some Christian psychiatrists speak of the “typical hysterical female,” a characterization I am not certain I like. Peter talks about the godly Christian wife as being exactly the opposite. She is not hysterical or panic-stricken about the future,94 for her hope is fixed on God. She calmly and quietly submits to her husband,95 knowing God’s purposes will be achieved because of or in spite of her husband.
Can you imagine leaving your homeland, your family, and all of your friends to go to a place God has not even yet revealed (see Genesis 12:1-3)? How many times did Abraham come to his wife to tell her God had instructed him to do what appeared to be foolish? As far as I can tell, Sarah was never present when God gave Abraham his instructions (except this one time in Genesis 18). It could have been a most terrifying thing to have been married to Abraham and follow him without being frightened by any fear. But Sarah did submit to Abraham, first in her spirit, and then on a day-by-day basis.96 For this, she became an example of godly submission to all of us.
A few years ago, I would hardly have felt the necessity of stressing a point which seems all too apparent, but in today’s culture I must stress it: God requires wives to submit to their husbands. The submission of the wife to her husband was established at the time of the creation of man and then at the fall. It is not merely an Old Testament requirement but a New Testament imperative. Paul taught it, and so did Peter. It is clear from our Lord’s practice that He agreed. The cross does not overrule or override the need for submission. In 1 Peter, the cross is not only an example of submission, it serves as the basis, the means and the motivation. Peter’s teaching on the submission of the wife to her husband follows immediately upon his teaching of the submission of servants to their masters, and especially of Christ to the will of the Father, which led to His death on the cross as the great “Suffering Servant.” As Peter addresses Christian wives, he begins with the words, “in like manner.” One cannot avoid the fact that in this age, as in all others of the past, the wife is to be in submission to her husband.
Does our culture bristle at this thought? This is just one more way the Christian will stand apart from others and one more reason why our “doing good” will be evil spoken of by unbelievers. Submission to one’s husband is one of the many ways in which the Christian may suffer for the sake of Christ and to the glory of God. Such submission is required under favorable conditions, and even in adverse circumstances such as when the husband is an unbeliever and refuses to obey the gospel by submitting to Jesus Christ for salvation. The submissiveness of the wife to her husband may bring about his salvation which most certainly pleases God. Does submission appear to limit one’s happiness and fulfillment in this life? It may, but the Christian wife has her hope in God, and she willingly accepts suffering in this life assured of the glory to come.
While this may not sound all that good in theory, I assure you it is even more difficult to practice. More often than I wish to admit, I find Christians turning their backs on Peter’s teaching. They believe a wife should not have to put up with an abusive husband. When they do so, they are thinking according to the mold of our culture rather than the mind of Christ.
Suppose one of your very good friend confides that her husband is cruel and “abusive” to her. She is a Christian; he is not. She wonders what she should do and asks for your advice. Do you turn to the Bible, or do you give “your opinion?” And if you turn to the Bible, is this text one of the first you show her? It should be. It calls on the Christian to suffer unjustly, to the glory of God and for the salvation of those who are lost. Is a “dysfunctional marriage” pleasant? No. Is it an excuse to bail out? Peter gives us the answer, although it is not one we want to hear. Who of us wants to suffer?
Peter’s words about submission and suffering should give us a different perspective on suffering. We are a generation of so-called “victims.” The very excellent book entitled, No God, But God, contains a chapter by Os Guinness entitled, “More Victimized Than Thou.”97 We have become a generation of victims, not victors. Peter will have none of this “victim” mentality. I used to say our culture sought to replace HOPE with HYPE. That is no longer the case. Now, our secular culture seeks to redefine HOPE so that it becomes nothing more than COPE. We are not called to be “copers;” we are called to suffer for Christ’s sake so that we will be overcomers. Let us shed the victim mindset as something which comes from the pit.
This passage cuts to the heart of a growing crisis in America—the disproportionate emphasis on appearance. Peter does not sanction a blatant disregard for good health and caring for one’s body, and neither does Paul (see 1 Timothy 4:7-8). Physical appearance has become the dominant driving force in the lives of many women. I cannot help but think the epidemic of eating disorders is rooted in a failure to understand and apply the principles Peter lays down in this text. Skinny women “feel” fat, and so they refuse the nourishment their bodies need. They are never skinny enough to fit the image of the perfect body, and yet often little attention is given to the inner beauty of which Peter speaks. Let us see Peter’s words as very relevant to our thinking and conduct, for they are.
Peter certainly challenges us to think more carefully and precisely about evangelism. We think of evangelism as being virtually synonymous with our speech. We must proclaim the gospel, for men and women are saved only as they hear and respond to the good news of salvation in Christ. And yet Peter makes it clear that there is a time to be still. We do not convert people by wearing down their resistance. We do not convert people by our persuasive powers. Our lives are to be consistent with the gospel we preach. After the lost have heard of Christ, they must see Him in us. That is the connection which Peter makes between the “Suffering Servant” in 1 Peter 2:21-25 and the suffering of His servants in this entire section. It may very well be our suffering rather than our success in speaking which God uses to draw the lost to Himself. If this is so, it is consistent with the experience of others such as the apostle Paul (see 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2).
Our lesson has primarily been addressed to those who have already trusted in Jesus Christ. Peter has been speaking to Christian wives. He has made it clear that those who have come to Christ must live like Christ. Just as He suffered for us, we are now called to suffer, as He did, to God’s glory and for the salvation of others. But just as it is true that coming to Christ often results in suffering, it is also true that suffering may bring us to Christ. Listen to these words spoken by our Lord at the outset of His ministry:
1 And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He [began] to teach them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:1-6).
Has suffering brought you to the end of yourself? Has it caused you to look to the Lord Jesus for salvation? Jesus came to minister to those in need. If that is your plight, then there is hope—in Him. He suffered and died so that your sins could be forgiven and so that you might have eternal life. May God open your heart to trust in Him, who turns suffering to joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:6-8).
82 I do not mean Peter is writing only to Christian wives married to unbelieving husbands. Peter focuses on the conduct of a godly wife married to an unbelieving husband because this is the “worst case scenario.” If Peter can require what he does of a wife in such adverse circumstances, then surely all other wives are to apply the same principles.
88 Augustine described the witness of his Christian mother which led to the salvation of his pagan father: ‘She served her husband as her master, and did all she could to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her conduct, by which You made her beautiful. . . . Finally, when her husband was at the end of his earthly span, she gained him for You.’” Confessions 9:19-22. Cited by J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers), 1969. Harpers New Testament Commentaries Series, p. 128.
89 “The wife’s conduct is also characterized as chaste (hagnen), ‘pure’ or ‘holy.’ The concept is not to be limited to sexual chastity; it denotes that purity in character and conduct that should characterize all of the Christian life (Phil. 4:8; 1 Tim. 5:22; Titus 2;5; James 3;17; 1 John 3:3).” Clowney, p. 185.
91 “Putting on (endueos), a term not used elsewhere in the New Testament, is another noun of action and apparently indicates the practice of appearing in a great variety of dresses, ‘the frequent changing of frocks.’” Hiebert, p. 187, citing J.W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, p. 90.
94 “This fits with ‘peaceful,’ a term used in the NT only here and in 1 Tim. 2:2, the nominal form appearing as well in Acts 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12; and 1 Tim. 2:11, 12. The sense of being calm, peaceful, and tranquil as opposed to restless, rebellious, disturbed, or insubordinate appears in each passage.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1990. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series, p. 119.
95 I want it to be very clear that I do not embrace the position publicly taught by one Christian teacher that women are to imitate Sarah by submitting to every request of her husband, whether sinful or not. As with our submission to others in authority, we must always limit our obedience to those things which do not clearly violate God’s commands. Sarah was wrong to participate in the deception that she was Abraham’s sister rather than his wife. She should have said, as Peter later would do, “We must obey God rather than men.” Wives are to submit to their husbands when they doubt the wisdom of their leadership, but not when they know it requires them to sin.