1 Peter 3:1-12
Sermon preached at Christ Church Duesseldorf, 4th November 2018
Last time in 1 Peter we talked about how we like to pack our lives into different boxes.
We might have one box labelled “religion” or “church”, another box labelled “politics”, another box labelled “work”, another labelled “family”, another labelled “hobbies” and so on. Then we take those boxes and pack them into one of two big boxes, one labelled “private” and the other labelled “public”. And very often, our faith goes into the “private” box, while work and politics go into the “public” box. Remember that? But then we finished by saying that actually all of our lives, public and private, should go into a box marked “Christ crucified is Lord”. So all our lives as Christians should come under the rule of Christ, and that includes the “relationships” box. And in that should be the most intimate and personal relationship that anyone can have, which is marriage. So in this week’s passage, Peter is showing us how we can please the Lord as wives, and husbands, and in all our relationships.
.1. Wives that please the Lord – v1-6
Christian wives please the Lord by submitting to their husbands- v1.
Now, before we talk about wives directly, let’s take a step back and see what this tells us about marriage generally. First of all, this tells us that marriage is a very good thing, something beautiful and precious in God’s sight. Some Christians in the past have seen it as second best compared to celibacy, or as a distraction from living a fully committed Christian life. But not Peter, and not the rest of the Bible either. He devotes a large chunk of his letter to it. Second, marriage is part of Peter’s evangelistic strategy. Back in 2:12, he has told his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day that he visits us”. As we said two weeks ago, Peter tells us that by the goodness of our lives we are to soften up non-Christians for the Gospel. And the visible goodness of Christian wives and husbands is key to that. Christians are to live lives that shine out, that are visibly different to the culture and society around them, and Christian marriages especially should shine out. But Christians are not to be revolutionaries who try to overthrow the surrounding culture and society.
So then third, Christ is the model for marriage, and the model for wives. In 2:21 he says that “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. So submission to their husbands is one way in which wives imitate Christ. And that means fourth, that Christian marriages are to stand out because they are other-centred, not self-centred. That is, Christian marriages aren’t to be relationships of mutual convenience where each partner is focused on having their own needs met; and if it isn’t working any more, the relationship can be dissolved. In a Christian marriage, the wife is focused on pleasing her husband, and the husband on pleasing his wife, and both on pleasing God together. And fifth, God has designed marriage so that husband and wife are complementary, not interchangeable. He has give each different roles. And so Peter says to the wives among his readers “submit to your own husbands”. So what does that mean?
What isn’t submission?
Well, Peter doesn’t mean here that women in general should submit to men in general. He goes out of his way in v1 to say submit “to your own husbands”, not to other men. Nor does Peter mean that wives should agree with everything that husband says or do everything that their husband tells them to do. Verses 1-4 are about a case, which was probably common, where a wife has become a Christian and her husband hasn’t, so they disagree about something vitally important. Maybe the husband has told his wife not to go to church, but to worship the pagan household gods with him- and the wife has to disobey him and go to church and not worship the idols. So this certainly doesn’t mean a wife has to obey her husband if he tells her to do something wrong. In v6 Peter tells wives that their role-model should be Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and he says that they have become her daughters, they resemble Sarah, only if they do what is right, and don’t fear any intimidation. So he can’t mean that wives should submit because they are intimidated or bullied by their husbands. Nor is submission here a matter of legalism. Some Christians have tried to make it into a lot of petty rules about much jewellery a woman can wear, or how long her skirts should be and so on. That completely misses the point: the Bible isn’t concerned with rules, it’s concerned with the attitude of the heart. So…
What is submission?
Let’s try and build up a picture from what Peter says.. First, in v2, it involves “pure, reverent lives”, or as that might be translated “the purity of your God-fearing behaviour”. We can imagine the situation where even a good, loving husband, might be afraid that he was going to lose his wife if she became a Christian. Perhaps he would be afraid that she had joined some kind of crazy religious cult. There were cults around then, as now, that promoted immoral and wild, ecstatic behaviour in worship. So I think Peter is saying “submit to your husband- show him that he hasn’t lost you”. That means behaviour that is pure, which certainly includes sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage, and behaviour that is reverent, God-fearing and respectful and sane.
Then, in v3-4, Peter says that submission involves true beauty, beauty that isn’t superficial and skin-deep, and that doesn’t depend on youth or the latest fashions. Instead, this beauty is an imperishable inner quality- the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Again, Peter is not concerned to set exact rules about whether a Christian woman can wear make-up or not. What he really cares about, and what God really cares about, is the attitude of the heart. What God finds beautiful and precious is an attitude of gentleness and quietness. That doesn’t mean being a doormat. But it does mean not being quarrelsome or argumentative, not fighting to get one’s own way all the time. It means being like Christ- and Christ was anything but a doormat.
By the way, I wonder if we can flip those verses over and apply them to men. We could say something like: men, don’t let your strength be the sort that comes from going to the gym and working out. Let it be inner strength, strength of character.
Then in v5-6., Peter says that submission means imitating the great women of the Old Testament, especially Sarah. Which shows that he is talking about the submission of believing wives to believing, Christian husbands, not only to non-believing husbands. Sarah called Abraham “Lord”, she does that in Genesis 18, when she is actually talking to herself, not to him. So again, Peter is not laying down a law about exactly what a wife should call her husband. He is talking about a wife’s attitude in her mind, about the way she thinks and speaks about her husband. She shouldn’t belittle him, or gossip about his faults, or criticize him in front of others. And, Peter says that Sarah “obeyed” Abraham. That is not the sought of obedience you might see in the army, where orders have to be obeyed without question. But when Abraham was told by God to leave his home and go to the Promised Land, Sarah obeyed Abraham and went with him. So obedience here is obedience to a believing husband’s leadership as he tries to lead his family in doing what is right, following God’s commands, and obeying God’s call.
So let me give you two definitions of submission, both from women who have written on this- we have their books on the bookstall. First Carrie Sandom: submission is “the demonstration of her commitment and trust in a man charged with the responsibility of exercising protective leadership”. Then Claire Smith: “What submission requires is an attitude of trust, respect, and honour that graciously recognizes the husband’s God-given authority, and willingly accepts his leadership and responsibility”. So if that’s submission…
What are the promised results?.
First, that the unbelieving husband will be won by the believing wife, v1.. Peter means of course that the husband will be won for Christ, and believe the Gospel, and become a Christian. I know that there are women here who are in exactly this situation. Peter is saying to you “don’t give up”. You should make it your goal to try to win your husband for Christ, don’t just settle for living happily together and going different ways on a Sunday morning. But on the other hand, don’t try to nag him into believing. Peter is assuming that the unbelieving husband has heard the Gospel, but it might be the case that the husband has forbidden his wife from talking about it anymore, or where trying to tell him the Gospel again, or asking him to come to church again, would just lead to an argument. In those cases, the wordless beauty of a wife’s behaviour, the difference he can see that the Gospel makes in her life, can soften a hard-hearted husband and win him for Christ. For all of us, male and female, married and single, I think this is a challenge. What do we care about more in all our relationships? Our self-fulfillment, getting our rights, getting our own way? Or about winning others for Christ?
Second, the promised result of this is that God will be pleased with the wife who behaves like this. Although wives should expect results from this, because they are promised here, there is nothing mechanical about it. There will be times when husbands aren’t won over by Christ-like behaviour, and don’t appreciate the beauty of the way their Christian wife lives. After all, Christ didn’t win everyone over by his behaviour. When that happens, a woman can be assured that God appreciates what she is doing. He finds it beautiful, and precious, and of great worth. And it is his opinion of any of us that really matters.
- Husbands that please the Lord – v7.
Christian husbands please the Lord by treating their wives wisely and with honour.
Peter is speaking now to believing husbands with believing wives. He doesn’t deal with the case of a husband who believes in Christ and a wife who doesn’t. Probably there weren’t many people in these churches in that situation- even today, it seems to be rarer than the situation of a believing wife and an unbelieving husband, I’m not sure why. But if a man was married to a woman who wasn’t a Christian, I suspect that Peter would have said very similar things, and encouraged them to win over their wives by the way they live. Peter gives two commands to husbands. First of all, he says that husbands should live together with their wives in an “understanding” or “considerate” way- different translations of the Bible put it a bit differently. Literally it says “live with your wife according to knowledge”- I think the best translation is “live together wisely”. That includes being considerate of her needs and feelings and wishes, but it’s a bit wider. The knowledge or wisdom that I think he’s talking about is described in the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, which has a lot to say about marriage, and ends with a picture of “the noble wife”. This wisdom begins with fearing God, and comes from listening carefully to his word. So at the most basic level, I think Peter is saying “think about how you live with your wife- don’t just go by instinct”. Anyone who has been married for more than five minutes will know that being a husband requires great wisdom and understanding, and that can only come from paying attention to God’s word. One thing I would like to do in this church is maybe once a month to get men together to pray for our wives and families, and to pray that we will be wise husbands. So the first command to men is to be wise, and the second command is to “honour” their wives. What does that mean?
What isn’t honour?
First, this means that a man can’t make his wife to submit to him. Peter doesn’t say what a husband should do if his wife won’t submit, but he certainly does not tell him to force her to submit. There is nothing like that in the Bible. We know from 2:16 that submission has to be free and willing, not forced, or it is worthless. So, reading between the lines, I think Peter would say that if a wife won’t submit, the husband should simply continue to honour his wife regardless. Honouring his wife rules out making her submit.
Second, honouring his wife rules out any kind of abuse. Whether that is physical abuse, or verbal abuse, or the passive abuse of neglecting her needs and feelings. For a man to abuse his wife is a crime not only against her, but against God. It says here that husband and wife are “fellow-heirs” of God, so a Christian wife is God’s daughter. Those of us men who have daughters, if we discovered that someone had been abusing our daughter, we know what we would do if we got our hands on them, don’t we? Well what do you think God will do to someone who abuses one of his daughters?
What is honour?
It means treating her like an Emperor, or an Empress. Back in 2:17 Peter said to “honour the Emperor”, now he says to men “honour your wives”. At the very least then, “honour her” means “treat her as very, very, very, very, very important and worthy and valuable”. This includes respect, but is much more. Again, we can’t set exact rules- it is the heart attitude that matters, the attitude of a man who respects and values and cherishes his wife, and remains faithful to her, even if he meets someone who is superficially more attractive. Who would never do anything to insult or belittle her. Peter says that a man should honour his wife as “the weaker partner” or “vessel”. Peter is not saying by that she is inferior. The word he uses is a physical one, it refers to the body. Peter is simply referring to the physiological fact that in general men are physically stronger than women, because men have testosterone, and are better at building up muscle tissue. That doesn’t make men better, it just makes them slightly different. Christians have always that thought honouring his wife as physically weaker means that a man will provide for her physically and protect her physically. I think it also means that he will be gentle to her. Grown ups will understand what I mean when I say that the words used here may also refer to the physical relationship between husband and wife. So a husband who honours wife there will never be rough with her, or use her for his own pleasure, or do anything she finds humiliating or degrading.
And Peter says that a man should honour his wife as a “fellow heir of the grace of life”, eternal life. So he should honour her as an heiress, a princess, God’s precious daughter. Marriage, and the relationship of submission, only last until death; but husband and wife will enjoy life together with God for all eternity. That relationship with God as his children is the most important relationship that either of them have. It means that husband and wife from the perspective of eternity are equal, equally valuable to God, and each will receive an equally precious inheritance
If a man honours his wife, what are the promised results?
Well, it’s clear what the results of not honouring her will be: Peter writes honour your wives “so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers”. So if a husband does not honour his wife, he can’t God expect to answer his prayers. Nor should he expect to feel close to God when he prays. Husbands know this: we know that if we have had an argument with our wife, and not treated her well, prayer becomes almost impossible. God seems distant, it feels like our mouths are full of sawdust. On the other hand, if we will honour our wives, then God will honour our prayers, we will enjoy closeness and communion with him. It all comes down to pleasing God by the way we live out our marriages, and enjoying his pleasure.
- Relationships that please the Lord – v8-12.
All Christians, in all their relationships, please the Lord by living a life of blessing.
Peter is now talking to “all of you”, to everyone, to all Christians. Including people who, for whatever reason, aren’t married. And he describes the very special, distinctive relationships Christians should have with each other, within the church, and with the outside world. What he is really talking about is friendship, Christian friendship. This is something that is badly needed in churches. Single Christians need friends- and so do married Christians. Peter is talking about the sort of church environment in which healthy Christian marriages grow, and single people have a vital role to play in making that environment. There is a special sort of friendship that grows between Christians. It’s a comradeship, a friendship of the trenches, that often springs up between very unlikely people. And this is all part of Peter’s evangelism strategy. There should in churches be a special depth and quality of relationship that is very attractive to people, that softens them up for the Gospel. Especially in a world where people are very isolated, where they live in flats in big cities and spend most of their time online, and where many people are very lonely. There should be this distinctive quality of relationship. And that quality of relationship is best described as “blessing”. So what is it?
What isn’t blessing? Look at v9.
As we’ve said, Christians are a holy people in a hostile world. We should stand out and be different and separate. And that will attract hatred and hostility from the world. But then it’s crucial that we don’t fall into a them-and-us mentality, where we start to see non-Christians as the enemy. So when people hurl insults at us, and mock us for being Christians, as they will, we are not to retaliate. It will be very tempting to let anger and bitterness seep in, and to want to strike back, but we mustn’t do it. Instead, Peter says in v11 to seek and pursue peace. Not to pursue confrontation with non-Christians. Christians aren’t to be the sort of people who go looking for a fight. Once again, we are to follow in Christ footsteps, and try to imitate him. Peter has already said in 2:23 that when Christ was insulted, he didn’t retaliate.
What is blessing?
To “bless” someone is to speak well of someone, or to speak to them in a way that encourages them and does them good, that doesn’t put them down or belittle them. More broadly, it’s doing good to people, acting in a way that conveys God’s blessing to them. Within a church that will look like v8. So within the church, there should be no quarrelsomeness, assertiveness, ambition, power games, or emotional coldness. Instead there should be oneness of mind and emotions, practical love for one another, compassion for those who are hurting, and the humility not to assert our rights. For husbands and wives, that means that they mustn’t be so absorbed in each other that they forget about the church, and building relationships there, including caring friendships with single people. At a very practical level, this means that the time we spend together on Sundays is very precious. It is a time to build relationships and friendships. Why not use it today to invite someone you don’t know very well round for a meal?
Outside the church, this looks like v9. Christians are to bless non-Christians, especially those who hate them and insult them. So Christians are to speak to non-Christians in ways that are gentle, polite, and respectful. We should be looking for ways to do good to those around us, and we should seek peace, we should seek good relationships with non-Christians. Peter says that if you are a Christian, God has called you to that. As he called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, so he calls us to be a blessing to the nations. And of course the best way of all to bless others in our speech is to gently share the Good News of Christ with them- because there is no greater blessing than knowing him.
And what are the promised results?
The result of blessing others is blessing from God. Peter says that those who repay evil with good, who bless others will inherit blessing from God. Then to prove it he quotes from Psalm 34, which is all about tasting and experiencing God’s goodness. So this inheritance is future: it’s the glorious riches of eternal life that God is keeping safe for us. But it’s also present, it is a life lived in fellowship and communion with God, enjoying his closeness and goodness. Again, this comes back to pleasing God. Psalm 34 says that the Lord’s eyes are on the righteous, that when he sees his people living as he wants, this is a pleasant thing for him to look at, he likes watching this. So his ears are open to them, he will answer their prayers. But he doesn’t want to look at those who lie and abuse others; his turns his face away from them, and will ignore their prayers. So do you want God to answer your prayers? Do you want to enjoy life forever under his blessing and love? Then be a blessing to others.
Christ is Lord of all of our lives. He is Lord of our marriages. He is Lord of our friendships. He is Lord of all our relationships. So let’s live them all to please him and bring him glory.