As we begin our exposition of chapter 3, it’s necessary to remember the greater context of Peter’s epistle, the theme of which I believe is sanctification. Sanctification is to be holy, to be conformed to the image of Christ. To become Christlike. And as we have seen submission is one of the primary means by which God produces sanctification in us.
Peter talked about submission to government in chapter 2 vs 13; he says submit to every human institution. He is talking about human and societal government. As Christians, the principle is that we are to submit to government. Now there may be exceptions to that rule, but Peter is stating the rule and not the exceptions. We must be careful not to look at God’s decrees in light of what loopholes we might utilize to get out of it, but remember the over arching principle.
Secondly, Peter talked about submission in the workplace in chapter 2 vs 18. And in both of these situations, both government and the workplace, the emphasis is on being submissive even when such entities are not reasonable, even when they may seem undeserving of our honor.
The third area of submission that we are looking at today is in the realm of marriage, or the family, the home. And again, though I think the principles contained here are clearly applicable to Christian marriage, yet the emphasis of Peter in regards to the woman’s role, especially, is in a marriage in which either the husband is not a believer, or is not walking with the Lord. So in all three situations, whether in government, or in the workplace, or in the home, the goal is that your living testimony by submission serves to bring such people to Christ.
When a person becomes a Christian it’s perhaps tempting to feel that now that they are a child of God they are superior to society. They might feel superior to government, superior to their employer, superior to their unsaved mate. But an attitude of superiority is not what we are supposed to be expressing in this world. Our purpose in being here is to be a testimony, to evangelize the world for Christ. And counter intuitively, God uses submissiveness to human institutions as a means of winning them to Christ.
Notice then a key phrase in vs one as well in vs seven. Do you see it? The key phrase is “in the same way.” First to wives and then to husbands he’s reaffirming the principle of submission. And if you will remember, the preceding supreme example given of submission in chapter 2 was the submission of Christ. The ultimate illustration of submission is that of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul states in Phil. 2:5-8 “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus, though equal with God in all respects, was submissive to the will of the Father, and even became a servant unto us, that He might bring us to God, even to the point of submitting unto death on the cross. And so Peter presents Christ at the end of chapter 2 as the ultimate example of submission which is to be the pattern for us.
So in the same way that Christ is our pattern for submission Peter says, wives should submit to their own husbands. Notice though it says to their own husbands. Peter is speaking specifically of wives being in submission to their own husbands. Not necessarily to all men in every circumstance. But to their own husbands. This isn’t talking about women in the workplace. It’s not a principle for women in government. Women may well be superior to men in the workplace. A woman may be in a position of authority in governmental office and not be out of line with scriptural dictates. This is in reference to a wife and her husband.
I don’t want to explore every possible Biblical nuance in regards to feminism in this message. Peter isn’t addressing all of that here, and so I think it’s better to stick with what he is saying than use this text as a trampoline to go jumping off into all different directions and try to take on the whole subject of feminity. Peter is talking about marriage, and that’s more than enough for this morning.
Peter says in vs 1, wives be submissive to your own husbands. The word submissive in Greek in the word hypotassō; which means to be in subjection, to line up under. It’s often used in a military context as lining up under rank. It means to realize that you are to take your place as subordinate to the leadership and the headship of your husband. This is God’s design for marriage. The husband has been given the responsibility to be the spiritual leader of the home.
It doesn’t mean that women are inferior, but that they are to be subordinate. In the military, for instance, the soldiers in a unit may be of varying degrees of strength or abilities or intelligence, but one has been given the responsibility to lead. And in a similar way, in a marriage it doesn’t mean that women are inferior in character or in intelligence, or virtue or ability, but they have been simply given a role that puts them in the place of submission to a headship which is given to their husband by God.
Paul speaking of this principle in 1Cor. 11:3 says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” So God has ordained this order of subordination. This principle of submission fits into a greater principle which theologians refer to as complementarianism. Complementarianism is the view that God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood but different yet complementary in function, with male headship in the home and believing community being understood as part of God’s created design. In God’s design, the woman has strengths to complement the man’s weaknesses and the man has strengths to complement the woman’s weaknesses. They are better together. Yet man has been given the responsibility of headship.
So there is equality but yet different roles, different responsibility. There is equality but one has been given authority. And we see that illustrated in the trinity. That is why Peter used Jesus as an example of submission; Jesus was equal with the Father, but He submitted to the Father’s will. And in the same way, wives are to submit to their husbands.
Now again, we are quick to point out the problems with this arrangement. We’re quick to point out the fact that the husband may not doing as he should. And so Peter goes to that possible objection right away by applying it to those wives who live with a husband who is not living in obedience to the word. Now on the other hand, the argument from silence might be that if a husband is living according to the word, then submission to such a husband would not be an issue. But to the point that a husband is not living in accordance with the word, either because they are unsaved or backslidden, Peter says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”
The point Peter is making is that submission is not dependent upon the merit of the husband. It is not reciprocal. The excuse that he isn’t nice, or he isn’t godly, or he doesn’t treat me the way he should is not an excuse for insubordination. Paul makes the case in Ephesians chapter 6, that you are to submit to your husband as unto the Lord. Eph. 5:22-24 “Wives, [be subject] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ought to be] to their husbands in everything.” So in submission to the Lord the wife submits to her husband. Submit to him as you would to the Lord.
Notice also Peter says that by your actions you might win your husband without a word. So the salvation of the husband is accomplished not by preaching to him, or nagging, or through words but by your behavior. The submission of a Christian woman to her unsaved or disobedient husband is the strongest evangelistic tool she has. It’s not what she says that will win him, it is what she is. This is a principle that has even broader application in the church; our lives are our greatest testimony, not what we say or preach, but how we act. And the goal of submission to an ungrateful, unloving husband is that they may be won to Christ.
So the first duty of the wife then is submission to her husband, even if he is not living the way he should. There’s a second responsibility which is given in verse 2; the responsibility to faithfulness. Verse 2 says, “As they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” Chaste means irreproachable conduct, especially in the area of extramarital relationships. There is never an excuse to be unfaithful as a wife in this area. That may sound like something that doesn’t even need to be said if you’re talking about Christian wives. But unfortunately, infidelity happens just as frequently in the church as it does in the world.
But faithfulness also extends to respectful behavior. It’s interesting that in Ephesians 5 when Paul is giving instructions to both husbands and wives, he places the responsibility on the man to love his wife, and the responsibility of the woman to respect her husband. Eph. 5: 33 “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must [see to it] that she respects her husband.” Respect is to give him honor. To respect him as a man. To respect his authority under God.
The third principle comes in verses 3 through 6 and it is modesty. verse 3 it says, “Let not your adornment be merely external, braiding the hair and wearing gold jewelry or putting on dresses.” I think it’s fair to say that in our society today the normal perception of beauty in women is concerned with the outside, with adornment. How they look, and what they can do to make themselves look beautiful. And that’s nothing new, really.
The same was true in Peter’s day. In ancient Rome, it was fashionable for women to dye their hair, they wore wigs. It was popular to make wigs from hair gathered in Germany. So I suppose it was blonde wigs. They wore it in elaborate designs, piled up on their heads. They wore perfume, decorated their clothing with jewels and so forth, showing their wealth in their clothing.
And it wasn’t just the Greeks and Romans. Listen to Isaiah 3:18, as the Lord rebukes the women of Israel. “In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of [their] tinkling ornaments [about their feet], and [their] cauls, and [their] round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, The rings, and nose jewels, The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.” I don’t know what all those things are, especially the “tires of the moon” but I can ascertain that they were all gussied up in the finery of the day.
And let me just clarify something. Peter is not saying that such outward adornment is in and of itself a bad thing. There has been a lot of misapplication of this verse which has been interpreted to mean women shouldn’t wear makeup and things like that. I personally am not a fan of a lot of makeup. But like my dad used to say, if the barn needs painting, then paint it. The point though that Peter is not an indictment against looking your best, but a preoccupation with only the outward appearance, instead of a focus of the wife on her inward beauty, which is more important.
So what is it that the wife is to do in adorning the inner person? Look again at verse 4, “but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” “Gentle” means meek, humble. And “a quiet spirit” means a calm disposition. The opposite of that would be prideful, cantankerous. So the desired inward beauty of a wife is the woman with a humble, peaceful, calm disposition. That is the inner virtue that a woman is to pursue and that is what wins the heart of a man. And note that it wins the heart of God as well; “which is precious in the sight of God.” This is the virtue that is pleasing to God.
Then Peter, like a good preacher, gives an illustration. And as I said last week, the best sermon illustrations are from the scriptures. Look at verse 5. “For in this way in former times the holy women also who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.” What does he mean by saying holy women? Well, he’s talking about the women of the Old Testament who are given for our examples. They hoped in God. in other words, they were true believers. They put their trust in God rather than in their own beauty or their own resourcefulness. And he says, they’re the models we are to follow.
I can’t help but compare that to the models of contemporary women. Just looking around at the magazines at the checkout stand in the grocery store you get bombarded by the models that society puts out there for the women to emulate. Granted, they might have external beauty, but if you ever read any interviews with them about their attitudes and perspective about life, you should quickly discern that they are no proper model for a Christian woman.
But Peter gives us one who is worthy of emulation, who is Sarah. Now the Bible tells us that Sarah was a beautiful woman. When she was even 80 years old, Abraham was worried that he might be killed so that someone else could take her as a wife. That’s how beautiful she was. But that’s not the virtue that Peter says women should be concerned about. Look at vs 6, “just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”
So Sarah’s submission to her husband is a model that women ought to pattern their life after. Peter says her defining attribute was that she obeyed Abraham. She’s a model of obedience. She called him “lord.” Lord was a title of respect, of obedience. It was a title of submission. The record of that is found in Genesis 12vs 18, where Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” I”m sure that this is not the only time when she referred to him that way, but it’s an example of the way in which she commonly spoke of him. And what it indicates is an attitude of submission to her husband.
Peter says if you follow Sarah’s example you will “become her children, if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” I think what might be indicated there is that there can be a fraternity among women that encourages independence and ridicules a woman who accepts the role of a godly wife, submissive to her husband. And far too often it’s this fear of ridicule, of not measuring up to this fraternity of feminism, of independence, that sometimes prompt women to “stand up” against their husband, to reject the God given role that has been appointed. And that is a grave mistake. Because there is a greater blessing in following the Lord than in following the world’s dictates. And a good marriage is a great blessing that God has ordained for all men. That’s what is indicated in vs 7 in the phrase; “fellow heir of the grace of life.” One interpretation of that is the common blessing that God has given to men and women through marriage. I think that there is nothing better than a good marriage. There is nothing better than having someone who loves you and whom you love, and to be able to share life together. Life is not better alone. And a lot of women who have listened to the world and rejected the authority of their husbands for the sake of what the popular culture has told them is better, and a lot of them eventually found that there is no comfort in an empty house in your old age. Marriage is a God ordained grace of life, or gift of life that God extends to all who will accept it.
Now finally, in vs 7, Peter addresses the husbands. He spent six verses on wives and only one on husbands. There is some disparity there, I suppose, but you can take that up with Peter, not with me. However, the opening phrase includes a lot of what has already been said and applies it to the husband by saying, “In the same way…” In this same attitude of submission you husbands live with your wives…”
Paul, back in Ephesians 5 talking about marriage, starts off by saying “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” So there is a sense in which husbands are to submit to their wives as well. How does that look? Well, it’s not submission to her authority, or to her leadership, but we submit to her needs. We submit our world and our priorities for the sake of serving her and meeting her needs. And a woman has different needs than a man. As Paul addressed in Ephesians 5, her primary need is love, and all that entails.
And so Peter gives three attitudes that a husband should have towards his wife. The first is consideration. He says “live with your wives in an understanding way.” The word for understanding is the word gnosis in the Greek, which has more meaning than what we might realize in our language. It’s talking about experiential knowledge. It’s talking about being sensitive to her feelings, to her needs, and ultimately to know her physically, intimately. In the scriptures to know a woman as your wife meant to consummate your marriage sexually.
Additionally the word for live is sunokeon, which means to dwell together with someone in the same house, to be intimate, to be close physically. It’s used in the Septuagint to indicate intercourse. So there is an injunction to live together, to love her intimately, to understand her needs and supply those needs on an emotional and physical level.
Secondly, in addition to consideration, there needs to be chivalry in your relationship with your wife. That’s a word that has fallen out of favor in modern times, but it means to act as her protector, her provider. Peter says “live with her as with someone weaker, since she is a woman.” Now this is not a put down, but a realization of her comparative physical weakness. Contrary to the view of popular media that wants to portray women as superheroes today, it should be pretty apparent in real life that women as a whole are weaker physically than men. Men are generally bigger and stronger physically than women. Women may have all sorts of advantages over men in regards to endurance or perhaps intelligence or discernment or able to withstand pain or whatever. I am not going to debate that. But what the scripture is saying is that a woman is weaker physically. The KJV says a weaker vessel. That refers to the outward, physical nature of a woman. Not the inward, but externally. And that’s a general rule. I’m sure there are exceptions to that as well. But one look at the roster of any major NFL team should be all the confirmation that we need on that subject.
So a wife benefits from the physical strength of the husband. She is to be protected, provided for. She should be cherished. The third injunction to husbands is that of companionship.
“Grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.” As I said earlier, the grace of life in one sense means the gift of life. Not necessarily eternal life, but the blessings of life. Marriage is God’s gift to mankind. Peter says you are heirs together in this blessing of God.
I just read briefly an article on Fox News yesterday in which someone wrote an opinion piece about the benefits of marriage over living together. And how a recent study showed four major advantages of happiness and contentment that came as a result of being married as opposed to living together or just shacking up. This is what is called a common grace. It’s a grace of life that is given to all mankind to enjoy. It’s unfortunate that instead people would rather believe the lie of the devil that they can have intimacy outside of marriage, that they can find happiness in one night stands. Marriage is a gift of God to man that increases our happiness and contentment in this world.
In closing, I would point out that there is another blessing of a godly marriage and particularly of submission in marriage, and that is your prayers are unhindered. Sinfulness hinders prayer. But James says the prayers of a righteous man accomplishes much. You want your prayers answered? Then make sure you are living in submission to your husband or wife in a godly manner. Make sure you are not putting a stumbling block in front of your mate by your rebellion or by your insolence. God will not honor a person who is not submitting to His word. And ultimately, our submission is to the Lord first. We submit to one another as unto the Lord. And when we have that kind of harmonious relationship in our family, it results in an open communication with the Lord as well, which will enable our prayers.
I hope we have come to understand today that submission is not a bad word in the church. In fact, as the church is likened to the bride of Christ, we must submit to the Lord in all things, recognizing His authority, His provision, His sovereignty over our lives. That’s the significance in calling Jesus Lord. I pray that you have submitted to Him as Lord of your life. That’s the way to receive the grace of life that God has given to all who believe in Him.