What does God expect in husband-wife relationships?
What does God expect in husband-wife relationships?
Peter has defined our commendable conduct as submission in the various realms in which we live—just prior to this passage, Peter called for submission to the authority of government; then he called us to live in submission to the authority of a boss in the workplace.
Peter made two important points regarding why servants should be patiently submissive to their oppressive masters.
- Patiently enduring oppression finds favor with God.
- Patiently enduring oppression follows Jesus Christ’s example.
Now he expands the idea of submission into the marriage relationship. Peter extends the principles of respect and submission to authority from Christian conduct in the world to Christian conduct in the family.
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, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather 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. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. (1 Peter 3:1–6)
Call of wives to submissive living
Peter calls on wives to be submissive to their husbands in the same manner slaves are to be submissive to their masters. The word translated submissive literally means to “be under the authority of.” In this case it is a command. The command is for wives to submit to their husbands. This command is not unique with Peter. The wife’s submission is actually a divine duty as to the Lord. Paul makes the same command twice:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)
Many in our society take offense regarding this command. But the command is not to be taken in the sense of the wife being subordinate in general; but rather, to be submissive to their own husbands as a function of order within the home. The wife’s submission is exclusively within the marriage relationship—women are not called to submissive to all men, only their husbands. The call is for the wife to accept her role in the family under the leadership of her husband whom God has placed as head in the home.
God has preordained the roles of husbands and wives. God has determined that the husband should assume the role as leader and lover in the home. Many men fail in this role. As a result, the role of leaders falls by default unto the wife. This is not what God intended. God does have a rationale for this submissiveness.
When the husband fails his God-ordained role, the family falters. Many times, this is an indication that the husband does not obey the word. This sort of husband is not only an unbeliever, but he is antagonistic toward the gospel. In this case, actions speak louder than words. In this situation, the wise wife will be submissive to her husband so that without a word so the husband be won (literally, to be acquired as a convert) by the behavior and conduct of the wife. The purity (chaste conduct) of the wife is often times sufficient to soften the hard and wooden heart of many a man—and this without saying a single word.
This is why women are called “to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” (Titus 2:5)
A wife’s humility
Peter then addresses the balance between outward and inward adornment. Peter addresses the “ordered system a woman uses in an attempt to appear externally beautiful” (Fruchtenbaum). He lists three forms of outward adornment:
- Arranging the hair
- Wearing gold
- Putting on fine apparel
Some use this verse to teach that women believers should not braid (arrange) their hair or wear jewelry. But if that were the case, then wives should also be unclothed. That would certainly be taking these statements out of their context. Peter does not condemn outward adornment. His point is that outward adornment should not be the wife’s primary focus—outward adornment (always temporary) should always be coupled with inward adornment (always permanent). Eventually age wins out over all of us—outward beauty will fade. Gold will tarnish or be lost. Clothing will wear out.
What continues is the hidden person of the heart. This is an incorruptible beauty that presents itself as a gentle and quiet spirit. This is the regenerate nature that comes from knowing Christ and by trusting fully in Him. Peter is referring to the imperishable quality of the inner life. Wives should submit in gentleness while always being considerate. This is precious in the sight of God.
The encouragement of holy women
A gentle and quiet spirit is contagious. That is why it is so important for older women to teach younger women. Consider Titus 2:3-5:
“…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”
But, wives also have the encouragement from the holy women who trusted God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. Specifically, Peter points to Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.
Sarah recognized her husband as the leader and head of their household (Gen 18:12). When wives submit to their husbands in this way, they need not be afraid. Sarah put her hope in God—she trusted in God. Wives who are fearful regarding the submissiveness that Peter is calling for are fearful and are not trusting the true God of us all.
How can wives live this way?
Several key thoughts come to mind regarding how this way of living—in submission to a husband—is possible. From this passage and from what Peter had previously written we learn:
- Know that all authority has been established by God to bring peace—especially in the household of believers.
- We are to show respect to everyone—even in the harshest environments.
- We are to endure patiently unjust suffering
- Christ is our example of how to endure suffering
o Do not retaliate at insults
o Do not make threats
o Do entrust our lives to the Father who judges justly
o Do be willing to sacrifice everything.
If wives live this way, I believe most husbands will respond and take on the role as leader. This is the will of God in the family.
But husbands, don’t get a big head. Though Peter gives this instruction to wives, he also has instructions for us.