In 1 Peter 2:12, we are instructed to live such good lives among the pagans so that they ultimately will praise God. Peter then goes on to describe how we might do that in several different situations. In 1 Peter 2:13-17, he covers submission to authority. In 1 Peter 2:18-25, he addresses the submission of slaves to their masters. And finally, in this passage, Peter addresses wives and husbands.
The instruction given in the New Testament for the relationship between husbands and wives is often problematic for many people in today’s Western culture. It is often viewed as archaic and misogynistic. And it is an area where preachers and teachers sometimes fear to tread. But it is important to realize that Peter’s words here are a part of the divinely inspired word of God and thus useful for us to grow in our faith (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So let’s take a look at what Peter has to say, first about wives, and then about husbands.
Submission of Wives to Husbands
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands
1 Peter 3:1a NIV
Roman / Jewish Culture
In the culture that Peter is writing to, both Roman and Jewish, women are typically regarded as second-class people; in some respects as property of their fathers or husbands. Submission to the man over them was considered as the appropriate response for a woman. This was a cultural norm during biblical times.
But that norm was challenged when a woman came to faith in Christ. Paul, and I am sure others as well, taught that in Christ there is neither male nor female. But all are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). This would seem to grant women a freedom that they had never experienced before. A freedom that was at odds with the social norms of the day.
Peter seems to be writing here to wives with unbelieving husbands. And he is giving them instruction on how they might be able to lead their husbands to faith in Christ. And being in competition with your husband for authority in the home was not the way to go about it. Instead, Peter urges them to submit to their husbands and set a positive example for them of Christian virtue.
In the US today, as well as in many other countries, the women’s rights movement has elevated the position of women in society. As a result, it is easy to look back at this passage, and others like it, as archaic. And it is tempting to disregard what it says. And many do. But is that the right approach?
I believe that this overall passage is still very relevant to us today. Yes, the culture has changed. And the relative value and worth we place on women today has increased. But men and women today are still different. As offensive as that seems to some, it is reality. And it is important within a marriage to recognize the differences and embrace them. Each brings something special into the marriage. And especially in a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, it is important to set a godly example for your spouse. Make sure that they can see Christ in you, and that you give them no excuse to reject Christ.
Setting An Example for Husbands
so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
1 Peter 3:1b-2 NIV
This part of the passage gives the primary reason for women to be in submission to their husbands. It is to facilitate the salvation of their husbands. Being rebellious against the traditional authority of her husband would not make husbands too receptive to their wives’ new religion.
Peter also cautions wives against pushing their husbands too hard. Clearly, words are needed to convey the truth of the gospel. Without words, their husbands would not know what had happened to their wives. But don’t be argumentative in sharing with your husband. Instead, let your actions speak for you. Be the best wife you can be, honoring God as you do so. And that will have more impact on your husband than a million words.
Of course, that is no guarantee that the unbelieving husband will come to faith. That is a choice they will have to freely make. But living as a godly example of the Christian faith makes faith in Christ more appealing.
The Source of Beauty
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV
What makes a woman beautiful? According to many of the commercials that I see on TV, as well as other advertising, it seems to come from what you put on. The right kind of clothes, makeup, perfume, and accessories. These are what we are led to believe make the woman. But are they?
I personally find that much of what is sold to make women more appealing does just the opposite. I have nothing against some makeup and nice clothes. But too often it seems designed to hide the person underneath all of it. And that seems to me to be what Peter is getting at here.
Instead of hiding behind all of the outward adornment, let your beauty come from within. The beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit shines much brighter than anything that you can put on the outside. Focus on your inner life and relationship with God. And it will be reflected on the outside. And that will be more attractive than any amount of paint or wrappings that you can clothe yourself with.
Daughters of Sarah
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
1 Peter 3:5-6 NIV
To support Peter’s instruction to wives he points them back to women in the Old Testament, particularly Sarah. I find this somewhat curious since the Old Testament is unclear about the topic of makeup, jewelry, and clothing. Clearly, there were those who were condemned for their outward adornment. Yet equally as clearly it seemed to be acceptable at times, especially jewelry. And I know of no reference to how Sarah adorned herself.
But more likely what Peter is referring to here are wives submitting themselves to their husbands. And that is what Sarah did. She submitted to Abraham, even to the point of being passed off as his sister. Using Sarah as an example, submission is not the same thing as being passive. Sarah was anything but passive in regard to Hagar and Ishmael. But even when making her feelings known she still submitted to Abraham and acted under his authority.
Does submission to your husband mean that you do whatever he says? No! As a believer, you actually have a higher authority. Submit first to God. And then your husband; so long as the two are not in conflict. Do what is right. Don’t surrender to fear. Then you will be Sarah’s daughter.
Instruction to Husbands
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.
1 Peter 3:7 NIV
Peter now turns to believing husbands and gives them some instructions for their place within a marriage. As noted above, Peter is writing to a Roman / Jewish audience that was very male-dominated. Women were thought of as a form of property and had few rights in society. So what Peter has to say to husbands was somewhat radical.
Husbands are to be considerate of their wives. To care about them and their needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual. And rather see them simply as property, recognize them as partners. I suspect for many that would be a radical idea, that your wife was a partner rather than some form of slave. Marriage is a partnership between two people who are working and sharing their lives together.
Husbands as a general rule are physically stronger than their wives. And it can be tempting to dominate them because of that. But Peter is clear that rather than taking advantage of their relative weakness, we should respect them, recognize their strengths, and work together with them to be stronger than either would be alone.
Peter’s concluding remark is a warning to husbands, and I believe wives as well. A malfunctioning marriage does not just impact a person’s relationship with their spouse. It also has an impact on one’s relationship with God. Disobedience to God’s instruction in any area of our life, especially in our most important relationship, will be a hindrance to our prayer life. And that makes being the best husband or wife I can be even more important.
Call To Action
There is no human relationship that is more important than marriage. So it is worth investing time and effort into making that relationship the best it can be; for ourselves, for our children, and for our community. The health of my marriage is also important for the health of my relationship with God.
Following the Biblical guidelines for marriage is not always popular in our culture today. And following them legalistically is no guarantee for a successful marriage. But to lovingly choose to work together as heirs of the gift of eternal life is something that is well worth pursuing.
- Is it still appropriate for wives to submit to their husbands? Why or why not?
- What is the most effective way for a believing wife to witness to her unbelieving husband?
- How do you feel about the instruction to limit the use of makeup and jewelry?
- In what way are wives the ‘weaker partner’? And what impact should that have on husbands?
- 1 Peter: An Introduction
- 1 Peter: Because of His Great Mercy (1:3-5)
- 1 Peter: Glorious Joy, In All Kinds of Trials (1:6-9)
- 1 Peter: The Mystery of Salvation (1:10-12)
- 1 Peter: Be Holy In All You Do (1:13-16)
- 1 Peter: Living as an Alien, a Foreigner in this World (1:17-21)
- 1 Peter: Love One Another Deeply, From the Heart (1:22-2:3)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen People, A Royal Priesthood (2:4-5; 9-10)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen and Precious Cornerstone (2:6-8)
- 1 Peter: Living As Foreigners and Exiles (2:11-17)
- 1 Peter: Responding To Suffering (2:18-25)
- 1 Peter: Instruction for Wives and Husbands (3:1-7)
- 1 Peter: Christian Ethical Behavior (3:8-12)
- 1 Peter: Revere Christ in Your Suffering (3:13-18)
- 1 Peter: Imprisoned Spirits and Baptism (3:19-22)
- 1 Peter: Don’t Surrender to the World’s Influence (4:1-6)
- 1 Peter: Life in the Church: to Love and to Serve (4:7-11)
- 1 Peter: Being a Shepherd, a Rewarding Task (5:1-4)
- 1 Peter: Humble Yourself Under the Hand of God (5:5-11)