We’re reading the first epistle of Peter over two weeks, with brief explanations and applications. The Bible text (NIV 2011) is in blue, so you can tell what bits are Scripture and what bits are my explanations.
3:1 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. Be attractively different.
3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Or the number of likes your new profile pic got.
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.
What this dynamic looks like in the twenty-first century is open to much debate. But the principle is not. Be the best twenty-first century wife you can be in the eyes of God. Often, that will be by fulfilling—and exceeding—our culture’s ideals for a wife. Sometimes it will be by being counter-cultural, living out gospel values in marriage in a world that finds them quaint. I’ll leave it for you to work out the tension.
7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner—meaning don’t use your superior physical strength to control and abuse; don’t tolerate domestic violence of any kind, ever—and treat them as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Again, what this dynamic looks like today is open to debate.* Be the best twenty-first century husband you can be in the eyes of God. Fulfil and exceed our culture’s ideals for a husband. And be counter-culturally faithful to God where you need to be.
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Forget about marriage for a minute: be the best person, the best friend, the best co-worker you can be in the eyes of God.
9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, just as Jesus taught us, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. As David wrote in the Psalms, when he felt like he was in the minority; like everyone was against him, he said:
10 “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
* OK, so we all know this is a contentious issue, which can’t be properly addressed in a little blog post like this one. My own view of how we should apply Scripture in this instance is an egalitarian one, affirming no restriction or subordination of women’s roles in the church or in the family, although I do have respect for those who read Scripture differently. Indeed, it should be Scripture – not our personal preferences, or our culture’s insistence – which guides us.
In the context of 1 Peter 3, let me make a couple of observations:
(1) The theological motivation for calling wives to submit to their husbands is both an issue of obedience (submission to human authorities within the wider culture as an expression of submission to God’s ultimate authority) and pragmatic (that they will not detract from the gospel witness by being culturally in-subordinate. In our own culture, the situation, I believe, is the opposite: the continuing submission of wives detracts from the gospel witness.
(2) The description of women as the “weaker partner” refers to the physical differences between the genders: men are, in general terms, stronger, and physically built to protect and fight rather than to nurture and comfort. What I’m saying is, ladies, we could take you in a fight. (I’m talking in general terms; there are plenty of women who could beat me in a physical fight.) However, this passage calls men to use their superior strength for the good of women – like opening jars and moving furniture – rather than to control, subjugate, or use women for their own advantage. (This, by the way, is why I personally like the symbolism of men holding a door open for women. To me, it’s not a sign that I think women are not my equal; quite the opposite. I see it as a symbolic act that says, although we could use our superior strength to control and dominate you, we’re not going to do that, precisely because we see you as our equals in every other respect. Apart from the jar-opening thing. But hey, you’re capable of giving birth to another human, so you come out well ahead on that comparison.)