Grace Means Submission
1 Peter 3:1-7
In every age, since humanity left the Garden of Eden, men and women experience conflict in their relationships. As much as we would like our marriages to be romantic, beautiful, and perfect, they aren’t. Because of sin, our relationships are messed up. Concerning this, God said:
Genesis 3:16 (NKJV) To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
The serpent was cursed, and the woman and the man suffered consequences. For the man the Lord said:
Genesis 3:17 (NKJV) Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.
What concerns us today is what God said to the woman. The serpent and the ground were cursed, and the relationship between the man and the woman was broken. God was describing consequences to the man and the woman, but He did not curse them.
Genesis 3:16 says that the woman's desire will be “toward” her man. The word used is a word for longing, and it is helpful to note it is used in the Song of Solomon to indicate the lovers' passion for each other. (Song of Solomon 7:10) Next, God tells the woman that the man will rule over her. This is descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, this is not a command or a curse, but God is telling her that things have gone wrong. The woman’s desire for the man is somehow changed from what God intended, as is the man’s ruling over the woman.
As we look at the subject of submission, we must keep in mind the effects of sin. We all have selfish motives (not every motive is selfish, but every action is tainted by sin). As a consequence, we have all experienced injustice and suffered at the hands of human institutions. In talking about submission, we must try to take into account these effects of sin.
For example, Peter addresses our response toward human government and slavery in 1 Peter chapter 2. We observe that government is necessary and established by God but can be unjust, cruel, and wicked. We also see that slavery is not part of God’s plan and is, by definition, evil. However, we are commanded to submit and to honor those in authority over us in both cases.
From this perspective of submitting to human institutions whether they are right or wrong, Peter starts out chapter 3 of 1 Peter with the following statement.
1 Peter 3:1 (NKJV) Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives...
Reading 1 Peter 3:1, we see that Peter says, “likewise.” In other words, he says, “In the same way.” We must ask, “In the same way as what?”
In the same way we submit to governments or to slavery, wives are to submit to their own husbands.
1 Peter 3:1 says, “even if some do not obey the word.” From the “likewise” and the statement that some do not obey the word, we understand that submission is not based on the husband's worthiness. No husband is worthy of blind and unquestioning obedience. But, that is not the issue here.
Societies differ in the legal nature of marriage. In some cultures, wives are treated little better than slaves. In the era Peter was addressing, women had no help or legal protection if their husbands decided to beat them. In most cases, the wife was little more than property, and her primary value or purpose was to have children. (For further reading on the subject of women in the Roman Empire see: https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/role-of-women-in-ancient-rome)
Peter is not justifying such treatment of women any more than he is justifying slavery. He is telling the ladies how they are to live within the realities of their circumstances.
The reason for submission is given as:
1 Peter 3:1 (NKJV) ...that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,...
Jesus put our salvation and souls above His physical life. The verses just before this one addressing wives give Jesus as our example. Look at 1 Peter 2:22-23.
1 Peter 2:22–23 (NKJV) 22Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;
Wives are called to submit for the sake of their husbands. Just as Christians are called to submit to governments and even slavery for the sake of the unsaved.
The Bible teaches that the unbelieving soul ends up in hell forever. God, for His part, provides a way of salvation and will not send anybody to hell unjustly. This is why each person must stand before God for judgment after death. God is not unjust. However, for our part, we believers must do everything within our power to turn souls away from certain destruction. God used the suffering of His Son to save the world, and if my suffering can turn a soul from destruction, I pray that God will give me the grace to suffer patiently, as Jesus did.
With such attitudes, Christianity changed the world. Peter’s commandment for husbands to treat their wives with understanding and honor was the opposite of women's treatment in the broader culture. Ephesians 5’s words for husbands to love their wives and even lay down their lives for them was foreign to the thinking of the day. Today, in America, women have rights and protections that women in the time of Peter would not have dreamt possible.
Women's experience in our culture is far from perfect because sin will continue to be a factor in the world until Jesus returns. There are still cultures and countries around the globe where wives are the property of their husbands. As the Church, we should do everything we can to help those who would escape such circumstances, and we should do all we can to change such things.
However, in our own nation, women have legal recourse if they are abused and beaten. They should avail themselves of any assistance they need. Romans 13 says that the government exists to “execute wrath on him who practices evil.” If the government is evil, it will execute wrath on the wrong person. (Paul appealed to Caesar, knowing that Caesar’s government was evil.) But, in America today, the government will not tolerate domestic violence. So, there is no reason to patiently suffer such things.
However, the description of the wife's attitude in verses 2-4 of 1 Peter 3 should describe every Christian. This passage says:
1 Peter 3:2–4 (NKJV) 2when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—4rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Another way to understand this passage is to ask, "Who are we trying to please?" Verse 4 ends with the statement, “Which is very precious in the sight of God.” Jesus lived to please God, and wives are to live to please God. We all should live to please God.
However, this section is addressed to women and speaks to a subject that is usually more of an issue for women, namely, arranging the hair, wearing gold, and putting on fine apparel. This does not mean that this cannot be an issue for men, but these particular verses are addressed to women.
Dressing and looking nice is meaningful and pleasing, but who we are inside is much more critical. I have a question. What is the value of looking “sexy?” Is it done to please God? Peter says to make the inner person of the heart our first priority. I do not think Peter is trying to set up rules for clothing; he is pointing us to what is most important.
To help us understand, Peter uses the women of the Old Testament as an example.
1 Peter 3:5–6 (NKJV) 5For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
If my wife called me “lord,” I would know something was terribly wrong. Sarah and Abraham lived in a day and age where it was appropriate for her to call him lord. We must focus on what Peter means. We notice he says they trusted in God. They were holy and adorned themselves with godliness.
The terror Peter talks about is about fearing the consequences of rebellion to the laws or institutions of man.
Remember, the relationship between man and woman is broken because of sin. God intends for the man and the woman to become one in body, mind, and spirit when joined by marriage. Ephesians 5 sets the standard as mutual submission, love, and self-sacrifice.
Peter is not addressing the biblical standard of headship and submission in this passage. He is telling us how the grace of God should work out in our broken relationships. Grace means submission; submission of one’s self for the salvation of others.
According to Ephesians 5, submission and headship in marriage are about the expression of God’s love for His people, and in marriage we are to give ourselves for our spouse’s good. In contrast, Peter is pointing out how we respond when man has perverted the institution that God created.
Having spoken to wives, Peter makes a brief statement to husbands.
Please notice that the “likewise” is included in the statement to the men as well. The brokenness brought by sin affects us all, and we all must be reminded that imitating Christ is the best solution. If husbands have been reading what Peter is saying to their wives, then the husband should have the sense to discern that the woman’s suffering is not right. A husband who is a follower of Christ would not want to be the cause of his wife’s suffering. So, Peter doesn't need to give a long discourse to husbands.
The first thing Peter instructs husbands to do is to be understanding. Again, a husband who has just read chapter 2 and the first 6 verses of chapter 3 should have a pretty good idea of the problem. DO NOT MISTREAT YOUR WIFE JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE DOES!
Peter calls the woman the “weaker vessel.” Peter is not debating the relative strengths and weaknesses of the sexes. Instead, he speaks to the vast majority of Christians throughout the ages where men have had the upper hand. Remember, God said, “...and he shall rule over you.”
Peter does not repeat the Pauline command for husbands to love their wives, but what Peter commands is part of love. Peter says:
1 Peter 3:7 (NKJV) Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
The woman is to be honored and treated as an heir together of the grace of life. Just as the Scriptures say:
Galatians 3:26–28 (NKJV) 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
God’s original design for marriage was:
Genesis 2:24 (NKJV) Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
As God explained, this design was broken by sin, but Jesus came to repair what was broken. Practically this means we must all be imitators of Christ, walk in love, and honor each other. Peter said it best when he offered this summary:
1 Peter 2:17 (NKJV) Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Honoring all and loving the brotherhood should show itself in our marriages first.
How do we measure up?
Are we different from the culture around us? Or, do we follow the sin-twisted ways of men?