In previous weeks, we’ve been thinking about how, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we were raised with him to the heavenly realms; and we became citizens of heaven; so that our true home now, the place we really belong, and the place we will one day come, is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. And since that is true — and it is true for all who believe — since that is true, then we’re to regard ourselves as strangers and aliens in the world. And we’re to regard ourselves as strangers and aliens in the world because we’re only living here for the time being, waiting for the time when the Lord Jesus will come again in order to bring us — in body and soul — into our true home, our heavenly home where we’ll be with the Lord Jesus for ever. But we’ve seen — haven’t we? — that while we go on living on the earth, while we go on waiting for the day when we will enter our true home, we’re to be the best citizens we can possibly be and we’re to be the best workers we can possibly be. That’s what Peter has been teaching us. Look back to verse 13 of chapter 2:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him….
So, submit to the ruling authorities: kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, government ministers and city councillors and to the police who are sent by them to uphold law and order. We’re to submit to the ruling authorities. And then look at verse 18:
Slaves [or we would say ‘Employees’] submit yourselves to your masters [or we would say ‘to your employers’]….
So, submit to your boss; do whatever your boss tells you to do.
And, of course, our hope is that a watching world will see how we live, and the people we encounter each day will see the difference God’s grace makes in our lives, and they’ll want to know God’s grace and his salvation for themselves. That’s the point Peter was making back in verse 12 of chapter 2 where he urged us to live such good lives among the pagans — among our unbelieving neighbours — that, though they accuse us and criticise us and complain about what we believe, they’ll see our good deeds and the sheer good of our lives and will glorify God because they too have come to believe.
Having written about the public square and our relationship to the ruling authorities, and having written about the workplace and our relationship to our boss, Peter turns in verses 1 to 7 of chapter 3 to the home and to the relationship between husbands and wives. And, of course, a watching world is watching the home as well to see how believing wives and believing husbands treat their spouses.
And, of course, if you’re married, these things will apply to you directly. And if you’re not married, but you’re hoping to be married one day, well, you need to learn these things now. And if you’ve never been married, or if you’re now widowed, you need to pay attention to these things too so that you can pray for those who are married.
The Bible is True
What Peter says to wives is very plain and straightforward; there’s no ambiguity about it; there’s no doubt about what his message is. He wrote in verse 1:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands….
When he says ‘in the same way’, he’s probably referring back to what he said in verse 18 about how slaves were to submit to their masters ‘with all respect’ or ‘with all fear’. Do you remember? Slaves were to submit to their masters out of fear for, or out of respect for the Lord. Well, in the same way, out of reverence for the Lord, as part of their duty to him, wives are to submit to their husbands.
I’m always a little nervous when I come to passages like this one, because here I am, a man, teaching women that God calls you to submit to your husbands. And I’m always a little nervous because I’m not sure how people will react. In these days of equal opportunity and feminism, this kind of teaching will often provoke a strong reaction. Many people when they hear these things want to throw up their arms in horror. Or when they hear a preacher teach these things, they want to pin the preacher to the wall for suggesting that the things Peter wrote here still apply today. And many wives when they hear these things think to themselves: Over my dead body! The things that Peter is writing here are so out of step with what the world believes that often believers, who would normally say that the Bible is true, will wonder whether a passage like this one might not be as true as the rest of the Bible, because surely this can’t apply to me today?
But here’s the thing: We believe the Bible is true and that what it teaches is always true. And we believe the Bible is true because we believe it’s God’s word. We believe that the human authors who wrote it — men like Peter and Paul and John in the New Testament and Moses and David and Isaiah in the Old Testament — wrote what they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They wrote what they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that what they wrote down was, in fact, the very word of God. Do you remember what Paul wrote to Timothy?
All Scripture [all of it!] is God-breathed….
In other words, it was breathed out by God and written under his inspiration. And since we believe that — since we believe the Bible is God’s word and is therefore true — then here’s the thing: whatever the world says which contradicts what the Bible says cannot be true. I’ll say that again: whatever the world says which contradicts what the Bible says cannot be true. It cannot be true; even if a hundred million people say it and believe it, it cannot be true. It cannot be true if it doesn’t agree with God’s word.
So, let’s set aside what the world says, and let’s consider what God says about these things.
Wives Should Submit
So, once again Peter writes:
Wives, in the same way [that is, with all reverence] be submissive to your husbands.
Now, notice straightaway that wives are called to be submissive to their own husbands. So, Peter is not saying anything here about the relationship between women in general and men in general. He’s not saying every woman should submit to every man. He’s not saying that; he’s addressing wives and their relationship to their own husbands. And he’s saying to wives that they ought to submit to their husbands.
But then he goes on to give a reason. In fact, there are two reasons. The first is there in verse 1: wives are to be submissive ‘in the same way’. And I’ve already explained that ‘in the same way’ refers back to verse 18 of chapter 2 where Peter instructed slaves to submit to their masters with all respect, or with all fear and reverence for God and for his will. So, when Peter tells wives to submit to their own husbands ‘in the same way’, he’s saying that one reason a wife is to submit to her husband is because of her relationship to the Lord. Because of her fear and reverence for the Lord, because of her concern to do his will, and to please him in all things, she’ll be prepared to submit herself to her husband.
But there’s a second reason why she ought to submit to her husband. Listen again to what Peter wrote:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives.
So one of the reasons why a wife should submit to her husband is that, if the husband is not a believer — that’s what the phrase ‘if any of them do not believe the word’ means — if the husband is not a believer he might be won over to the faith by the way his wife behaves towards him in the home.
Now, no doubt this happened often in the early church: a preacher came to town — perhaps one of the apostles — and preached the good news of the gospel. And here’s a woman who heard the good news and was convinced by what she heard, so that she turned away from her false gods to worship the one, true and living God. In other words, she became a believer. But her husband didn’t hear the preacher; or perhaps, he heard, but didn’t believe the good news. Anyway, the wife is now a believer and her husband is still an unbeliever. What should she do? What is her responsibility now? What is her duty now? Well, her duty is the same as any other wife. Whether the husband is a believer or not, the believing wife’s duty is to submit to her husband.
And in verse 2, Peter goes on to refer to the purity and reverence of the wife’s life. So, she’s to cultivate a good and godly way of life, so that instead of giving in to sin and temptation, as she might have done before she believed, she’s now to fight against temptation and she’s to resist sin in all its forms and she’s to seek to do what is good and right and pleasing to the Lord.
That’s the duty of every believing wife: submit to your husband, cultivate a good and godly life. And look what Peter says to the wife whose husband does not believe: by submitting to your husband, and by living a life of purity and reverence, goodness and godliness, who knows? Who knows? Your unbelieving husband may be won over to the faith without words. Isn’t that interesting? Without having to say anything to him about what you believe, without having to hand him a tract, without having to quote the Bible to him, without having to use words at all, but by the sheer goodness of your life, you might convince your husband of the truth of Christianity. He’ll see how your life has been transformed by the grace of God; and he’ll want to know the secret of this transformation for himself.
Now, if your husband is already a believer, does that mean you don’t need to submit to him? If your husband is already a believer, does that mean you can fight with him over every decision that has to be made? Well no, because the command at the beginning of the chapter applies in all cases, whether they husband is an believer or an unbeliever:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands….
So, instead of insisting on your own way — and we’re all tempted to do that, aren’t we? — instead of insisting on your own way, and getting angry when you don’t get your own way, submit to your husband.
Peter wants to say more about what it means to live a life of purity and reverence. And so he goes on in verses 3 and 4 to write about what true beauty is. And first he says what it isn’t; and then he says what it is. So, what it isn’t, first of all:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes.
So, he’s referring to a woman’s hair and her jewellery and to her clothes. Now, he’s not forbidding these things. He’s not saying that it’s wrong for a woman to be concerned about what her hair is like or what jewellery she has or what clothes she wears. He’s not saying that. But he’s saying that a wife ought not to treat those things as the most important things. Pick up a woman’s magazine and you’d get the impression that those are the most important things; you’d get the impression that the most important things are whether your hair is right and whether your jewellery is right and whether your clothes are right. However, those aren’t the most important things; the most important things are those things which Peter mentions in verse 4. So, it’s the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Notice it’s the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit; physical beauty will diminish over time as we get older and our hair goes grey and wrinkles appear on our face. That kind of beauty fades; it diminishes. But the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is unfading; the beauty and attractiveness and the appeal of a gentle and quiet spirit, a kind and peaceful character, will not diminish over time. And look: not only will the husband find it appealing, but it’s also of great worth in God’s sight. That’s how the Lord wants wives to be.
It’s always good to have an example to follow, a model to copy. And so, Peter reminds his readers in verse 5 about the godly example of the holy women of the past who put their hope in God and who sought to cultivate this inner beauty and who were submissive to their husbands. And he mentions one of these holy women by name. It’s Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who called her husband ‘master’. Now, you’re maybe wondering when did she call Abraham ‘master’? Well, it’s easily missed. But in Genesis 18 we have the story of how the Lord appeared to Abraham and announced to him that Sarah — who was now an old woman and well past the childbearing age — would have a son by that time next year. And do you remember? Sarah overheard the conversation and she laughed to herself; and said: ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’
Now, I’ve heard elderly women call their husbands ‘You old fool!’ And perhaps some wives here have often thought to yourself that your husband is a bit of an ejit. Perhaps you wouldn’t say it out loud, but maybe you’ve thought it. But here’s Sarah; and even though she was talking to herself, and there was no one around to hear her, she referred to her husband in a way which showed honour and respect. She was an old woman; her physical beauty had begun to fade; but the inner beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit was still there. Well, you’re to be like her. That’s what Peter is saying to his readers. And notice how he says at the end of verse 6 that you’re not to give way to fear. I’m sure there were times when Sarah was afraid, because Abraham was far from being perfect and made some questionable decisions in his time. Just think of that time when he asked Sarah to pretend to the Egyptians that she was his sister and not his wife. I was telling the children that story last week and how the Pharaoh took Sarah into the palace as one of his wives or concubines. But do you remember? The Lord protected Sarah. And so, wives are to submit to their husbands, without being afraid about what might happen, because you can trust the Lord to watch over you and to keep you from all evil.
When we turn to what Peter says to husbands, the interesting thing to note is that, while he instructs wives to be submissive to their husbands, he doesn’t instruct husbands to rule over their wives. Christian husbands can try to do that, can’t they? They say to their wives: ‘The Bible says you’re to submit to me. So, you’d better submit to me!’ But Peter doesn’t tell husbands to rule over their wives. Instead he teaches them to be considerate as they live with their wives. Again, he adds ‘in the same way’. So, out of fear and reverence for the Lord, be considerate towards your wife. That’s your duty before God.
Now, if we were to translate this verse more literally, we’d see that Peter is telling husbands to live with their wives according to knowledge. What does that mean? Well, Peter goes on to explain what he means: husbands are to live with their wives, knowing, or realising, or being conscious of three things.
Firstly, that the wives are weaker than they are. Now, he doesn’t mean wives are inferior to their husbands or less intelligent than their husbands or anything like that. He simply means wives are physically weaker than their husbands. And that’s nearly always the case, isn’t it? And since husbands are often stronger than their wives, it’s possible for a husband — whether he realises it or not — to intimidate his wife. Or perhaps there are situations and circumstances in life which he’s able to put up with things which she might struggle with. Well, he’s to be conscious of that fact so that he’s able to give her the love and support she needs. Think of the way a person might be with a family heirloom or with an expensive ornament; and how careful they are not to damage it in any way. If it needs to be transported, they wrap it up carefully. If they have to pick it up, they take care not to drop it. Well, husbands are to care for their wives like that; they’re to treat them as special so that they protect them and care for them and cherish them.
Secondly, he’s to be remember that his wife — and Peter is now referring to believing husbands and believing wives — he’s to remember that his wife is an heir with him of the gracious gift of life. In other words, my wife is not only my wife, but she’s a fellow believer who is loved by the Lord. And so, since the Lord loved her and gave up his life for her, then I ought to love her too.
And thirdly, he’s to remember that if he’s unkind to his wife, and if he keeps mistreating her and if he makes things hard for her, then the Lord will not listen to his prayers. Last Sunday we read from Psalm 66 where the Psalmist said: ‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’ Well, have you been unkind to your wife? Have you shown her little consideration? Well, instead of holding on to that sin, it’s time to give it up. It’s time to repent of that sin and it’s time to ask the Lord — and your wife — to forgive you.
So, wives are to be submissive to their husbands; husbands are to be considerate towards their wives. Well, think of it this way. We’re only aliens and strangers in the world; we don’t really belong here now; instead we belong in heaven, because through faith we were raised with Christ to the heavenly realms; and we’re now citizens of heaven above. And what is life in heaven like? Well, in heaven no one will be insisting on their own way; and in heaven no one will be inconsiderate towards one another. In heaven, we’ll love one another perfectly and we’ll care for one another perfectly. And our life here on earth is meant to reflect that. Our life here on earth is meant to reflect the fact that we belong in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, this is how we ought to treat one another.
And the good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ — who did not insist on his own way, but who bowed before his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and said, ‘Not my will, but yours be done’ — sends his Spirit from heaven into the hearts of believing wives to enable them to submit as he did. And the good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ — who invited the weak and the weary to come to him for rest, because he is gentle and able to give them rest — sends his Spirit from heaven into the hearts of believing husbands to enable them to become gentle just like him.
And so, every day we ought to look up to our Saviour in heaven for the help we need to become like him so that we will bring glory and honour to him as we live our lives here on earth.