THE FIRST LETTER OF ST. PETER
Excellent Behavior in order to Win People
1 Peter 3:1-12
We could spend time in the introduction showing how this passage relates to what goes before it. For example, 3:1-12 is part of a larger section—2:11-3:12: EXCELLENT BEHAVIOR BY CHRISTIANS IN ORDER TO WIN NON-CHRISTIANS. Something even more interesting has been operating. A few weeks ago, the Southern Baptist Convention amended the Baptist Faith and Message, a set of Biblical principles upon which most Baptists agree. Whereas individual churches and individual Baptists are free to disagree with some of the statements in the document, each professor serving at a Southern Baptist seminary is required to sign that he agrees completely with the BF&M.
The amendment o the BF&M did not change anything already written in the document but rather added the clause that women are to submit graciously to their husbands. The BF&M also commented on the responsibility of the husband to the wife; however, that comment has been largely ignored. This amendment has created a firestorm in the secular pres (and among the more liberal Baptist critics). The secular press, for all intents and purposes, has characterized SB's as being oppressive, neanderthal, misogynists, etc. (It's interesting to note that he same press which makes a caricature out of the Baptist position at he same time completely ignores the rise of Islam which enslaves women in many parts of the world.)
The fact is that the Southern Baptists got it right. This position may not be politically correct, but the passage we're about to study promotes this very principle—the gracious submission of the wife to the husband. (What is sad about the whole sordid episode is that this is really a mute point; all the SB's I know adhere at least in principle to the teaching that wives are to submit graciously to their husbands. The SB's have made an issue out of something that is really not an issue in our churches, or at least in the churches I’ve been a member of.)
Note once more the major context of this passage: the way Christians respond to non-Christians: non-Christian government officials, non-Christian masters, and here non-Christian husbands. Once more, Peter is going to stress that Christians are to respond pretty much in a passive way to harsh behavior in order to win their non-Christian spouses to the Lord. A different set of rules applies to Christians who mistreat other Christians—they are to be taken to the woodshed for discipline (see Matt. 18:15-17; 2 Thess. 3:10; Heb. 12:5-8).
RELATIONSHIP OF CHRISTIAN WIVES TO NON-CHRISTIAN HUSBANDS (3:1-6)
Some may find this passage disturbing since it speaks of Christian women being married to non-Christian husbands. Did these women know about the principle of not being unequally yoked? We need to remember that before Christianity reached Asia Minor that all the people were non-Christians. What probably happened is that some of the married women, when they heard the gospel, became Christians whereas their husbands rejected Christ. The persecution of the wives by the husbands probably occurred because the husbands were irritated that their wives no longer adopted their husbands' beliefs and religion—a standard practice in the 1st century. As a result, the husbands persecuted their wives most likely by harsh words.
What was to be the response of the Christian wives? Pretty much the same response Christ gave when He suffered persecution:
"In the same way [just like the example of Christ in the verses which immediately precede this
passage-2:18-25], you wives be submissive to your own husbands so tha even if any of them are
disobedient to the Word, they may be won without aword by the behavior of their wives as they
observe your chaste and respectful behavior" (3:1-2).
Some Christians try to distinguish between submission and obedience. They interpret the word translated "submission" as "respect." Whereas there is the element of respect in the verb, the fact that in just another few verses Peter defines "submission" as being obedient shows that here submission involves obedience.
Normally when we think of wives being submissive to their husbands, we state that the reason given for this principle is that since the husband is going to be held accountable for the home, he should be given the final word in the home. Whereas that is true, Peter is not arguing this point. He desires that Christian wives submit to their non-Christian husbands in order that their astonishing and totally unexpected response might convict their non-Christian husbands and might lead them to salvation. Peter emphasizes not the words the Christian woman might use—talking can be really cheap—but rather their response in reaction to the husband's ill treatment. Naturally, the non-Christian would expect the Christian wife to complain or even slander her husband behind his back; however, Peter commands that they respond with respectful and chaste behavior.
What does Peter mean by chaste and respectful behavior?
"Let not your adornment be external only—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting
on dresses, 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" (3:3-4).
It seems strange that Peter links these 2 verses with 3:1-2 which deal with a passive response to their husband's treatment; however, the 2 passages go hand in hand. One way that the Christian wife might be able to retaliate against her husband would be to make a fool of him in public. By dressing the way spoken of in v. 3, the Christian woman would be dressing pretty much the way prostitutes dressed in the first century. Such extravagant dress was really ostentatious and would draw attention to the woman in a way that most respected women would reject. By dressing this way, she would have been aligning herself with prostitutes in order to disgrace her husband publicly. (Remember that we are discussing first-century customs here.)
Another situation may be operating here, though. A woman—even a Christian woman—who is mistreated sometimes finds comfort in the arms of another man. By dressing the way Peter describes in v. 3, the Christian woman might be sending out signals to Christian men that she is interested in them for either an affair or marriage.
There is the third possibility. Many times whenever a person's life is in shams, that person tries to find ways of escaping the pain of that life. Some turn to affairs; some turn to shopping, their children, entertainment (sports as well as movies and books, etc.), even to an unhealthy over-emphasis on clothes and make-up, etc. By mentioning this over-emphasis on externals, Peter may be cautioning the Christian wives against searching for escapes from the very area in which God is working in order to mold them into the image of Christ.
Peter, on the other hand, stresses that Christian women should focus not on externals bur rather on internals—"the hidden person of the heart." Instead of focusing on braiding hair, etc., the Christian woman should focus on developing a gentle and quiet spirit. (Now Peter is not criticizing women who use make-up, etc.; he is preaching against an over-emphasis on these things.) Many times we misconstrue "gentle" to mean "weak." The imagery behind "gentle" is that of the stallion whose mighty strength is harnessed by the small bit in his mouth. These submissive wives are gentle on the outside, but it is only because by the power of the Holy Spirit they’ve been able to bridle their emotions and feelings.
Peter is not asking for these Christian women to do anything unusual. Their spiritual ancestors in the OT practiced this very principle of submission to the husband:
"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. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him,
"Lord," and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any
fear" (3:5, 6).
Note that in this passage Peter links submission and obedience—obedience is an essential part of submission. A person can talk about being submissive all day long; however, the proof is in whether or not that person is obedient to the one they're supposed to be submissive to.
Many Christian women have smirked at Peter using Sarah as an example of submission. This is the wife who ordered her husband to cast out his son Ishmael because she did not want him to share in Isaac's inheritance. A closer look at Sarah, though, shows her to be the model of submission. The woman followed Abraham hundreds of miles to a place he had no idea where in order to receive a son she had no way humanly possible of producing. Furthermore, when she and Abraham went into Egypt, she submitted to his suggestion that she claim to be only his sister and not his wife. How degraded she must have felt being delivered over to Pharaoh to be his concubine. Abraham did not ask this of Sarah just once but twice! Later she submitted to his request to pose only as his sister in front of Abimelech. Sarah was by no means perfect; however, she really came through when the time called for it.
Note the 2 conditions Peter gives to the Christian women if they want to be known as Sarah's daughters: " if you do what is right [2} without being frightened by any fear." "Do what is right": refuse to cave in to their husband's demands that they give up their faith in Christ and return to the religion of their husbands. "Without being frightened by any fear": not to let their husbands intimidate them because their husbands are stronger physically. Rather, they are to let their healthy fear of the Father determine their actions (1:17).
RELATIONSHIP OF CHRISTIAN HUSBANDS TO WIVES (3:7)
Peter now spends just one verse on husbands. He probably does not spend as much time on them as he does on the wives because they were not suffering persecution—the dominant theme of this section—at least not at the hands of their wives. Peter does, however, instruct on the proper treatment of the wife:
"Live with your wives in an understanding way as with a weaker vessel since she is a woman, and
grant her honor as a fellow-heir of the grace of life that your prayers may not be hindered."
First, the husband is to live "in an understanding way" with his wife. He is to understand her so that he might meet her needs. He is to know her so that he can love her in the ways that she experiences love. I love to go to movies; therefore, when Nancy wants to show me she cares about me, she suggests that we go to the movies. On the other hand, if I want to show her I care for her, I don't say, "Let's go to the movies" [she doesn't really care about them]. Rather, I suggest that we go walking, go for a picnic, etc.
Second, I am to realize that she is the weaker vessel physically. It's a sad day whenever a man uses his physical prowess in order to intimidate his wife into doing what he desires—the very thing, apparently, the non-Christian husbands were doing to their Christian wives in the previous section. God has a special place in His heart for those people in society who are weaker physically, economically, and socially.
Third, husbands are to treat their wives as fellow-heirs of the grace of life. Our wives are just as much children of God as we husbands are. We fathers appreciate that whenever anybody messes with our daughters, they are going to have to mess with us. I want the young men who date Molly in the future to know that they're not just dealing with her; they'll be dealing with me also. When I look at Nancy, I need to remember that she is a daughter of God who loves her dearly and holds me accountable for the way I've treated His daughter. Moreover, she is a vessel in whom the Holy Spirit lives, one who will be completely transformed into the image of Christ on the last day, and one who will reign with Christ throughout eternity. She is a person of great value.
Peter gives an important reason husbands should treat their wives in this manner: "that their prayers may not be hindered." The husband who treats his wife in a harsh manner cannot expect God to attend to his prayers. I wouldn't listen to the prayers of any young man who mistreated my daughter. If Christ demands that we make things right with a fellow Christian before we come to worship Him (Matt. 5:23-26), how much more does He demand that we make things right in the most important of all human relationships—that between a Christian husband and his Christian wife. Any time you're not right with you wife, you are wasting any time you spend in prayer and Bible study. Get right with your wife before you try to spend time with God.
Peter sums up the entire section in vv. 8-12:
"To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, kind-hearted and humble in spirit; not returning
evil for evil or insult for insult but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very
purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 'For let him who means to love life and see good days
refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and
do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it; for the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His
ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'"
Instead of retaliating against our non-Christian oppressors, we're to be harmonious, sympathetic, etc. The main reason Peter has given is that such behavior can lead to the conversion of the oppressor. Here he gives a second reasons-it leads to receiving a blessing, God's presence and salvation, the blessing promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).