1 Peter 3:1-7

April is L-Plate month, where I’ve turned over this website to my students. They are studying an introductory preaching subject this semester, and writing for this website is part of their assessment, as well as a learning exercise for them. I’m hoping you’ll interact with them a bit via the comments function at the bottom of each post, offering some feedback. (Particularly, feedback that’s constructive or affirming – they’ve got me to deliver the negative stuff! Remember, some of them will never have preached before, and some have English as their second language.) They will then incorporate this feedback in a sermon they present in class at the end of semester.

We continue today in 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:1-7 | Jake Swadling

Today’s passage tends to attract a lot of controversy, dealing with the role of men and women in the people of God. Jake gives it an excellent treatment coming from a “complementarian” perspective. My views are of the “egalitarian” persuasion, but I have a strong respect for both sides of the debate. I think this is an issue where Christians can respectfully disagree (and I put the emphasis on respectfully!) 

Is there anything more human than to place our own self-interest first? Credit card debt has replaced sayings like “no pain no gain”, personal empowerment is today’s holy grail.  Many church members complain about church leaders who don’t meet their needs, while the same church leaders write articles about how the denomination has lost its way…

The concept of submission isn’t a real popular one in the West today.

Is this a healthy mindset for a follower of Jesus Christ? The Apostle Peter didn’t think so and our section of scripture (1 Peter 3:1-8) can challenge many of our modern understandings today.

1-2 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

It is difficult to read through today’s cultural lenses a call for women to submit to their husbands. However in the world in which these churches existed, women were considered inferior in status to their husbands. Women were expected to follow their husband’s lead in all things, including religion.  This expectation doesn’t exist in many parts of Western culture today; it would be rare to find someone offended by a married woman’s lack of subservient behavior. But for a wife not to submit to her husband in that environment would have brought dishonor to her husband, causing resentment from him towards the Christian faith. Peter is asking wives to focus on honoring Jesus in their marriage, rather than themselves or their husbands.

Are there implications for todays Christian reading this passage? Yes, and it isn’t necessarily about wifely submission. Peter through this epistle encourages those without authority in a relationship (then servants and wives, today it might be refugees or employees) to live in a manner that honors the Lord. Turning the other cheek to an angry boss testifies to the character of Jesus far more than complaining about or undermining that person. We are to do this, understanding that our behavior as followers of Jesus is always grounded in our submission to the Lord.

Christ Himself is our model in this; His submission to the will of the Father is the basis of all our salvation. And how many of us were introduced to the Lord through somebody else’s submitting to and doing the will of the Lord?  All of us!

Peter does place a limit on what submitting to those with authority can entail. The conduct he refers to here is described as “respectful and pure.” Wives (and us) were and are not called to participate in conduct that is disrespectful or impure i.e. sinful.

3-6 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Peter’s commands to the wives in this epistle regarding “adornment” were not unique.  Many Roman writers of the era linked the styles referred to by Peter with unfaithfulness or with the cults of Artemis and Isis. Peter was encouraging Christian women to be distinct from those worldly practices.

Peter then contrasts what the world values (external beauty) with qualities that the Lord finds precious (a gentle and quiet spirit). While elsewhere Peter commands all to live similarly (clothe yourselves in humility, 1 Peter 5:5), Peter in these verses linked these God pleasing qualities to women submitting to their husbands.  Sarah’s submission to Abraham was beautiful to the Lord. It is important to note that Sarah’s submission to her husband occurs in a different circumstance to that which Peter addresses in the initial verses; Sarah isn’t trying to ‘win’ an unbelieving husband to the Lord through her culturally appropriate submission. Wives aren’t called to submit to their husbands only for the purpose of winning them to the Lord. There is a strong sense in this passage that wives submitting to their husband’s leadership is beautiful to the Lord in a way that is not conditional upon the wider cultural context.

Wives (and all of us in light of Ephesians 5:21) are called to live out lives of submission to our roles in the body of Christ. At times these roles will fit cultural norms, other times they wont. Regardless, we are called to value that which the Lord values. The idea of a wife willingly submitting to her husband’s authority in the home is repugnant to many in the Western World today. Mainly because the worlds understanding of submission is that it is an act of weakness, an admission of inferiority. The Christian understanding is radically different. We are all called to submit to Jesus, whose self-sacrificing and loving exercise of authority is the model for all Christian leadership. Wives’, who willingly submit to their husbands in this sense, though misunderstood by the world, are beautiful to the Lord. 

However Peter acknowledges the sometimes-daunting task of wives following Christ with non-Christian husband’s, with an encouragement to be fearless and obedient to Christ.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

This is the only section, of what has been called the household code that places obligations on both parties in a given relationship. Peter does so to affirm that a women’s worth, equality and relationship with God is in no way inferior to that of her husbands. And in light of this, and the above passages, husbands are not to use their greater physical strength to intimidate their wives.

Instead, somewhat counter culturally in its era, men are to honor and live in humility with their wives, recognizing that they are equally made in Gods image. It is an important message to get out into todays world. In a society as individualistic as ours is today, the notion that anyone who willingly submits himself or herself to authority can do so without a loss of self worth, equality or honour is bizarre. Such dignified conduct presents a powerful testimony against the individual as consumer mindset so prevalent in our cities and (regrettably) churches today!

Exercising authority with a humble and considerate mindset is also an important Christian attribute. Verse 12 of this passage tells us that the Lord’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous. Honoring and humble leadership are righteous in the eyes of the Lord is Peters message in the conclusion of verse seven. Despite the standard posters in most Human Resource Departments in the workforce today, this understanding of leadership is countercultural as well. Imagine what a testimony to the character of our Lord it would be if all Christian husbands, business leaders, pastors etc. lived this out?

The way we conduct all our relationships can be a testimony to the impact Jesus has made in our lives. When we squabble over and jockey for authority we resemble the world at its worst. When we willingly submit to our Lord and conduct our lives in accordance to His will, we present a witness to the character of our amazing God.

3 thoughts on “1 Peter 3:1-7

  1. Kym says:

    Well done Jake! You dealt with a very sensitive and controversial topic with real grace and poise. You were able to explain the original context well, yet also apply it to the context of your readers in a way that was relevant and sensitive. Similar to Tim I would say that my understanding of this topic are more egalitarian, however I was very impressed with your handling of the text and it’s application. You have a great writing style also which is easy to read and relate to. Good job!

  2. Simon says:

    Thanks for the reminders again that followers of Jesus are to stay culturally different from the people they are living amongst- submission & individual rights being two big examples here.

  3. Husband says:

    My comments are perhaps influenced by life experiences of my own.

    I started quite egalitarian as a pre-Christian and over the years walking with the Lord I’ve become increasingly complementarian. In a sense there is indeed a kind of egalitarianism to be found in scripture, but our Western culture’s version of egalitarianism seems caustic and toxic to me.

    Having journeyed in this way, today I think that relationship between Christ and His bride the church is an informative model for marriage: we ought to reflect the image of that relationship in our own marriages. So one ponders questions like this: shall the Church strive to behave in a way that is egalitarian with Christ?? If not, or if Christ should exercise His authority, does this imply that Christ doesn’t love us?

    Being married now and a husband, I’ve seen egalitarian-inspired behavior that I would say — as honestly and with as much neutrality as I can enter into — has cost our family incredibly dearly in terms of orderly function when it was most needed, and my own personal experience is that things transpired have damaged our whole family – severely.

    Of course the experiences of one person don’t make policy and that is why I suppose that individual stories of a ‘poor quality’ husband should not be given as reasons to create new doctrines that are taught (by some — I’m not suggesting you) to override the straightforward reading of 1 Peter 3.

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