October 7, 2018
Jason Meyer | 1 Peter 3:1-7
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.—1 Peter 3:1–7
This is the fifth and final sermon in the divorce and remarriage series. This last sermon is not about what divorce is, but what marriage is. That is intentional. Discussions about divorce are not the mainstay of our teaching on marriage. Our approach should be the same as Jesus when he responded to the trap of the Pharisees. We refuse to begin and end with discussions of divorce. Let’s start by holding up the meaning of marriage before we ever consider actions that could break the covenant of marriage.
We should talk about biblical grounds if the Bible does, but only as a last resort, not a first impulse. We don’t start there, but sometimes we are forced to go there. In this way, talking about biblical grounds for divorce is somewhat analogous to what happens on an airplane. When the flight attendant is discussing the safety information before taking off, it is a loving thing to talk about what to do in case of an emergency. But they do not discuss it all the way through the flight. Therefore, people do not respond and say, “Don’t talk about what to do if there is an emergency. You will scare people into thinking that a crash is inevitable.” It should be a short and necessary discussion as part of the flight, but it is also must be put into perspective and not become the main topic of conversation.
I want to address the “If you don’t take a strongly restrictive stance it will open up the floodgates” argument. I am not impressed with that argument. I reject it. I flat out reject it. I don’t think it is right or safe to be ruled by fear. I want to steer us as a church away from two ditches here: the Pollyanna ditch (being naïve and putting an artificial positive spin on everything) or the Chicken Little ditch (excessive fear and caution—“the sky is falling”).
I don’t want to be a Chicken Little church—a place that feels safe only if enough excessive caution is in place. I am not against caution—just excessive caution. Some people commend erring on the side of caution. There is nothing inherently wrong in that approach, unless it is overused or becomes one’s dominant approach. If you err on the side of caution, and err on the side of caution, and err on the side of caution—guess what? It makes you err by definition. Phrases like “this feels like a slippery slope” do not faze me.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the whole church would suddenly become View 3 [see the three views laid out]. Let me say clearly that we are not calling you to change your view—we are calling you to examine your view in the light of Scripture and the arguments laid out by each view and then be convinced in your own mind. But don’t try to silence the other views and force your conscience and your convictions on others. We have been so careful to lay out all three views because we welcome those views here. But what would happen if we all got on the “slippery slope” of View 3—what would we slide into? The historic view of the Christian church throughout the centuries. That doesn’t make me shake in my boots. Let’s put this series into perspective by putting some centuries of Christian history around it.
Church history is important, but I believe our own church’s history is important here. For example, Pastor John Piper opposed the fact that to be a member here you were required to abstain from alcohol. He himself opposed that—not because he wanted to drink alcohol (he doesn’t drink alcohol to this day). He thought that the restriction went beyond Scripture and would wrongly bind the conscience and try to fight flesh tanks with peashooter regulations. My point is not that alcohol and divorce are the exact same issue. My point is that the exact same argument was used—the “floodgates” argument: If we don’t take a strong stand against alcohol, then everyone will start drinking and we will be a church full of alcoholics. That didn’t happen. I don’t buy the argument that “If we don’t take a strong stand against divorce” (meaning a super-restrictive stance like view 1 or 2), then the whole church will start looking for a way out and the divorce rate will skyrocket here. I don’t buy it. I don’t trust peashooter regulations in general.
We believe in the Holy Spirit. Because we have the Holy Spirit, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Oh, we will fight for marriage with every fiber of our being, but the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh. Our weapons must have divine power to tear down the strongholds of sin that in turn tear down marriages and leave wreckage and carnage in their wake.
Main Point: Wives and husbands have distinct roles in marriage and equal worth in God’s sight.
“Likewise” (v. 1) and “Likewise” (v. 7) is a structural clue for these two points.
This first point has two commands followed by a rationale.
I. God’s Call Upon the Wife
1. Be Submissive (vv. 1–2)
I think we can agree that this verse is clear. Look at verse 1: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” Peter calls wives to put themselves under the authority of their husbands. Submission is not a popular concept today. We don’t get our theology from whetting our finger and the feeling which way the winds of culture are blowing—we stick our finger on the text and see what God’s word is saying.
We are treading on a debate in the wider church today and I want you to know where we land as a church.
Agreement: Equality of Essence and Worth
Two different views on this question exist in the wider church. They go by the names Egalitarianism and Complementarianism. Let us start with where they both agree. They both affirm that the Bible views women and men as spiritual equals in the sight of God with no differences in terms of dignity or worth whatsoever. The two views are unified in terms of equality with respect to gender essence or ontological worth.
Disagreement: Equal Gender Roles or Distinct Gender Roles?
Therefore, the debate between egalitarians and complementarians boils down to two different understandings of gender roles, not gender worth. Egalitarians believe equality should extend to gender roles so that there is no distinction of a role to play, whereas complementarians believe in distinct, but complementary gender roles.
The defining difference often comes down to the concept of authority. Egalitarians believe that “the Bible calls women and men to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church, and world” (Mission statement of Christians for Biblical Equality). Egalitarians don’t believe in wives submitting to husbands—they believe in mutual submission. They say men and women should share authority equally.
Complementarians believe that men are called to use their God-given authority to serve women in a Christ-like, servant-hearted, lay-down-your-life way so that women in the home and the church will flourish. They lead this way in submission to the call of Christ on their lives. Women are called to submit to this servant-hearted leadership gladly and respectfully. They submit this way as part of their submission to the call of Christ upon their lives.
But look at the scope of this call to submit: “… so that even if some [husbands] do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1). The question has probably arisen in the mind of a wife: If my husband is not obedient to Christ, should I submit to him? Can I submit to someone who is disobedient to the word I am called to obey?
Peter’s response is far from thinking that a woman would not need to submit to a non-believing husband until he becomes saved—Peter says that submission is a way that he might be saved. Verse 2 is a helpful expansion on the husband’s experience of this submission: “they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
2. Focus on Inner Adornment, not Merely on External Adornment (vv. 3–4)
The second thing Peter says is that they should focus on inner adornment, not merely external adornment.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Peter is not saying that you should never braid your hair or get dressed up with clothes and jewelry. He is not saying that you can show your husband your godliness by showing him and everyone else around you that don’t care how you look and you don’t devote any time to it.
But he is saying this: Imagine how much time you spend getting ready before you go out to eat or to some public event. How much time and energy did you spend on external appearance? Peter is asking if you put that much time and energy and care into your inner adornment. He is not asking you to neglect your physical appearance! He is saying, “Don’t spend so much attention to your external appearance that you neglect your inner person.” What is the priority? Do you care more about what is precious in God’s sight?
3. Because This Is Your Birthright as a Woman of God (vv. 5–6)
For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
I love the phrase found at the beginning of verse 5: “holy women who hoped in God.” I hear Egalitarians seemingly throwing stones at the Bible as being hopelessly patriarchal. They say, “The whole thing is regressive compared to the progressive day in which we live.” That sounds like chronological snobbery to me. They are embarrassed that Sarah had to obey Abraham or call him “lord.” How demeaning to her worth as a person, they say. But that is not what this text says at all. Quite the opposite. Don’t be embarrassed about this lineage. Celebrate it. They were not misguided women—culturally backward and regressive women—they were holy women who put their hope in God. They didn’t hope in their husbands when they submitted to their husbands. They hoped in God. That is why they could do good and not be afraid. A daughter of God does not have to be a slave to fear.
Proverbs 31:25 is a celebration of these same characteristics:
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
When a wife clothes herself with gentleness and quietness, she really has clothed herself with strength and dignity. She is like a strong horse that is attuned to its rider. When she feels a pull at the reigns to go right and left or stop or go forward, she does so. Submission to Christ is strength. Hoping in the Lord allows you to look at the future and not cry “The sky is falling,” but laugh the horse-laugh of faith.
What Submission Is Not
Here we need C.S. Lewis and his sheep gate analogy. It is not enough to say what something is, you also have to say what it is not. Listeners and readers are like sheep, and they will not reach the pasture of understanding if the sheep gates are open where they can wander into confusion or misunderstanding. So let me close some gates. I am not only speaking to wives here. Husbands, you could have the wrong idea of how your wife should submit to you and you may have the word of God rebuke you for that wrong thinking.
Submission is not the call to adopt a husband’s view on everything. It is not mind control or brainwashing. The Bible does not call a Christian to become a Stepford wife that robotically says “Yes” to whatever her husband says or wants.
In other words, submission to another sinner is always provisional, not absolute. A sinner could lead you into sin. Don’t follow there. One should give absolute submission only to the Absolute authority: Christ as Lord of all.
That sounds great, but where do you see it in the text? Look again. This husband and wife don’t agree on something. And it is not something trivial. They disagree about the most important reality in the universe. So he can’t do thought-control and say, “You must agree with me that Jesus is dead and not worthy to be worshiped.” He is disobedient to the word, and she is obedient to it. And she is commended in this. She does not submit to him because he is worthy, she submits to her husband because Christ is worthy. Whenever what Christ says and what the husband says come into conflict, Christ must win. I must obey God rather than men.
Submission does not mean absolute agreement and so it cannot mean absolute compliance. In other words, should the wife forsake all attempts to persuade her husband? Should there be no challenge from her to him for change? Of course not! Where do you see it in the text? She wants to win him to Christ! Changing him is a central part of her mission. She wants him to obey Christ like she does— not that she wants him to obey her.
Not all submission is godly. It can be ungodly if it is idolatry. If you put your hope in your husband, then he becomes a functional god. He may be a faith-filled man, but he is still a flawed sinner. Christ alone is worthy of our hope and trust. This cannot become merely horizontal. Horizontal submission must always flow out of vertical submission. You submit to your husband not out of fear of your husband, but out of fear of the Lord. You submit to your husband not because you mindlessly follow him or hope in him, but because head and heart together are trusting in Christ.
It is amazing how God-centered this passage is. The wife says, “I must obey God rather than men.” I cannot follow you into unbelief. The wife wants her husband to be won to God, not so that he will obey her, but obey the One she obeys: God! The wife focuses on inner adornment and not just external adornment. Why? Because God finds that beautiful. The wife lives in a fearless way because she is hoping in God.
II. God’s Call Upon the Husband
1. What: Live With Wives According to Knowledge
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.—1 Peter 3:7
I confess that I wish men got more than one verse in terms of guidance! This verse is one that you will never outgrow. You never reach a point with this verse where you say: “I have finally arrived.” It is a high calling. The central command is to “live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7). Literally, it says “live with your wives according to knowledge.” This raises the question—what are we supposed to know or understand?
2. How: By Showing Honor to the Woman as a Weaker Vessel
… showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,
The word here “showing honor” is a participle—an adverbial participle that tells the husband how to live with his wife according to knowledge. You live with your wife according to knowledge by showing honor to the woman as someone weaker.
Let us say upfront that this could sound almost patronizing, not honoring. What does Peter mean? Peter is referring to one’s total relationship, but this word even extends to one’s sexual relationship. The term “living with” occurs only here in the NT, but it occurs eight times in the Old Testament (see for example, Deuteronomy 22:13, 24:1, 25:5). The husband is to live with his wife in an intimate, tender, informed way. Peter is saying that the wife is physically weaker, which makes it easier for a man to overpower her. Instead of being a bull in a china shop, the man is supposed to be tender and gentle and caring. How is that honoring?
Think of an analogy. Sometimes the things that have the most value, you handle with the most care. No one looks at a Ming Vase and says that is worthless because it can be broken if it is handled roughly. But have you ever seen someone handle something with great care, where you can almost see the affection they have for whatever they are holding? The text says that your life together with your wife should demonstrate that kind of care and affection in your words and actions toward her.
Now let me be clear: This text is talking about more than the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. Peter is talking about more than that, but not less than that. This is a major problem in our world today. Sexual harassment and violence are all too common. The saddest reality is how prevalent it is on TV and movies. Let me just say something that may be a new category for some of you. Have you ever heard of a spouse raping another spouse? It is called marital rape. It happens. One spouse, usually the husband, forces himself on the other— even when it is not mutual or wanted. One spouse is harsh, insensitive, and overpowering. This text would obviously speak loudly against that type of marriage relationship.
This is a good time to ask if you show affection and care and attention to your wife as a pattern of your overall interactions with your wife. Or are you tender toward her only when you want something from her? Husbands, I wonder if your wife feels that cared for? When you speak to her or interact with her, is it gentle and careful, or harsh and rough? If someone were to form a judgment about how much you value your wife, what would your words and actions demonstrate?
3. Why? Because You Are Fellow Heirs of the Grace of Life
… since they are heirs with you of the grace of life,
Handle them with care that shows their value because they are valuable. It is not as though your different role gives you more worth or value and her less value or worth. You are equal in the sight of God. You are children of God—sons and daughters who have equal rights to the gift of the grace of life.
So, a reminder that we are talking about gender roles, not gender worth. The same thing was true of Jesus. The Son submitted to the Father and said, “not my will, but yours be done.” And he was not for a second inferior to the Father or less than fully God like the Father. The Father and the Son are co-equal, co-eternal.
4. Warning: Your Prayers Will Be Hindered
… so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Imagine someone asking the question: “… or what? … What is at stake here? What happens if I don’t live in this understanding way and show honor and treat my wife as a spiritual equal?” A broken relationship at home will lead to a broken relationship with God. If the lines of communication are down horizontally, they will be down vertically as well. Look how much God cares about how his sons treat his daughters!
Sometimes a man will sinfully and selfishly forget that his wife is a spiritual equal and has a direct relationship with her Lord. He is not her priest or mediator. We believe in the priesthood of all believers—both partners in the marriage have direct and equal access to God. In fact, if a husband does not treat his wife in an understanding way, his prayers will be hindered. (His access to God and answers from God will be more limited.)
Christ died for both of you—to bring you both to God. Therefore, do not think of top-down leadership that says, “God speaks to me and then I will speak to you and tell you what to do based on what God told me.” Because she has a relationship with the Lord of both of you, assume that God is speaking to her, too. One of the ways that a husband empowers her relationship with Christ (spiritual flourishing) is by asking, “What is the Lord saying to you? What dreams or desires is he birthing in you about what it looks like to be a woman of God, a passionate follower of Christ? How can I come alongside of you and help your relationship with him flourish?”
Sometimes the Lord may begin by burdening the wife’s heart, and she tells her husband what the Lord seems to be saying. Good leaders are good listeners. Good leaders will listen and take that to the Lord. If the Lord confirms it, then the husband takes the initiative to move it forward in a way that utilizes both of their strengths and gifts.
Sometimes the Lord will speak to the wife about something or burden her heart in a certain sphere and will use the wife’s burden to bring the husband under the same conviction. An example in our lives is that Cara first felt the burden to adopt and was instrumental in helping me see that physical adoption is a picture of our spiritual adoption into God’s family.
A bare-bones summary of the differences …
|Self-Serving Lordship||Servant-Hearted Headship||No Headship|
What Is Hyper-Headship?
Complementarians believe that biblical marriage should display the biblical model of Christ’s marriage to his Bride, the Church. Complementarians believe that each gender has a distinct part to play within that picture. God calls the man to take the lead in loving his wife in a lay-down-your-life, Christ-like way. God has given the woman the responsibility to receive that loving Christ-like leadership in a submissive and respectful church-like way.
Hyper-headship destroys that picture because the husband abuses his headship in a self-centered and self-serving way. He may be self-centered and self-serving in a covert aggressive way that refuses to do anything to serve his wife or family. Or he may be self-centered and self-serving in a harsh, oppressive, and controlling way. Self-serving lordship is not Christ-like leadership because Christ gives himself for his bride. Harsh lordship is not Christ-like leadership because Christ does not abuse his bride and treat her harshly. The bride of Christ flourishes under his servant leadership. Hyper-headship does not lead to the flourishing of the wife. It becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.
Christ constantly taught and modeled an upside-down approach to power. His approach was not to use power to lord over people (the person with power is the lord, and the person overpowered is the servant—we stand on the backs of others). Leadership seeks to be a servant, not a lord; it seeks to empower, not overpower.
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Top-down leadership is the wrong imagery. It looks like the husband getting his way and the wife just following his orders in a lock-step kind of way. It doesn’t look or feel empowering; it looks like overpowering.
The bottom-up image is what a male cheerleader does with a female cheerleader at a football game. He uses his strength to lift her up. That is empowerment—a picture of serving for the purpose of flourishing: She can go higher than she ever could on her own. Spousal abuse goes against the grain of everything we hold dear. Spousal abuse is the most un-Christ-like thing a husband could do.
But let’s be frank about something. I am not denying the fact that some wives abuse their husbands. It is true. Such abuse is sinful and should be equally opposed. But I am speaking out specifically against domestic abuse in which the husband abuses the wife because of what complementarians teach concerning male leadership and use of authority. We ask women in a complementarian marriage to take the most vulnerable position in the marriage relationship, and it could quickly become a dangerous position when our views get distorted. The flourishing of the wife requires the husband to love his wife in a servant-hearted way in which his sights are set on her flourishing. Therefore, we must be vigilant to call for husbands to love their wives, not to love the idea of a wife. Do husbands see their wives as someone who will serve them or do husbands see their wives as someone to serve? We must maintain an extra vigilance against distortion and against abuse of authority because we teach that husbands have authority as leaders.
What is clear is that we are setting the bar too low if we set our sights on avoiding abuse. Complementarians ought to be the most outspoken opponents against abuse. We ought to keep watch most closely in the church to prevent abuse. Those who are in leadership positions in the church ought to use that position to protect the vulnerable and go after the abuser with the full force of biblical righteousness.
Don’t get the idea that these women were perfect. If they were perfect and never did a nosedive, then they could trust in themselves. Where do I see that in the text? Where does it say that Sarah called Abraham “lord”? At perhaps her greatest moment of unbelief. She overheard the promise of God that she would have a child and she laughed. Then she lied. Listen to Genesis 18:9–15.
They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
People who read the Bible in an unsympathetic way (expecting to find contradictions) find a contradiction here. Peter says that you become Sarah’s children when you refuse to give into fear—you become fearless like Sarah. But this very passage is one in which she laughed and then lied because she was afraid! Oh, but what a huge mistake to quit reading here. Who would want to be defined by our worst days? Look at how Sarah responded in Genesis 21:1–7.
The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
They named the child “he laughs.” Sarah can laugh the laugh of faith now. God has done the miracle. He is faithful. He is going to carry out his purpose. “I had no reason to doubt him. No reason to fear. My faith grows as I prove him over and over.”
But we have seen more than Sarah ever saw. We have seen our Lord die and rise. We have heard his promise that he is coming again so we will be with him where he is. Without the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, this passage would unravel. The text that sets up 1 Peter 3 and makes it possible is 1 Peter 2:21–25.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Why can a wife not fear condemnation when she has a moment of unbelief and laughs for the wrong reason like Sarah and then lies about it? Christ took that sin. He paid for it with his wounds. What about the moments when a wife did not have a happy attitude of submission? Jesus entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He obeyed and submitted perfectly. What about the times that husbands have not been tender with their wives and they now have a guilty conscience? Come to Jesus. He will not treat you harshly. He will receive you tenderly—he will not break a bruised reed. He died so that you can live to righteousness. He died so you can be forgiven and empowered to live with your wife in an understanding way.
He is our hope. We can look at the future and laugh because our bridegroom will come. He will set all things to right. There will be justice. All will be new. He is faithful and true.
Pray for a grace to live out gender roles in submission to the Lordship of Christ.