1 Peter 3:1-7 - Wives, Husbands, and the Curse Undone
[Text: 1 Peter 3:1-7] “Wives, Husbands, and the Curse Undone”
I’m going to be very blunt here. I have a lot of learning to do when it comes to how we’re supposed to live together as men and women, husbands and wives. But if you’re like me, there’s also some un-learning that needs to happen, some transformation in thinking that needs to occur to help me walk as a follower of Christ ought. So bear with me as we struggle through this together. But this is worth the struggle because our spouses and our prayers depend on this.
[Pray – Father, you created marriage and you meant it for our good. And you meant it to be a picture of Christ and his Bride, the Church. Help us today to see how your Gospel restores what we lost in our sin and may you use husbands and wives in each other’s lives to point each other back to your gracious Son. Give us ears to hear your Word this morning, Father. And I pray that whatever comes from me this morning would be quickly forgotten, but that whatever comes from you would bring conviction and new life through the working of the Holy Spirit. With our hope in Christ we pray. Amen.]
[Read 1 Peter 3:1-7]
We’re talking today about the curse of sin being undone, about how the Gospel of Jesus is meant to transform our relationships, specifically as husband and wife (don’t worry about it if you aren’t married. There’s something in this for you, too.) But here’s a struggle I see in front of us: this Word is supposed to give life, not take it away. It is supposed to bring healing and restoration, not slavery. It is supposed to make the believer in Jesus (both husband and wife in this context) flourish and grow like a tree planted near water. But because of the baggage we each bring with us to the Word, some have heard these words, like “be subject” and “weaker vessel,” and understand them to mean a cage instead of freedom. Others have heard the same words and understand them (quite wrongly) to mean than men are inherently superior to women.
But what we have to remember is this; words have meaning – intended meaning given by the author – so, we need to define them if we aren’t going to be talking past one another. This is vital since people often speak about “biblical submission” or “biblical headship” and I think (quoting The Princess Bride), “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
What if our understanding of these ideas – even in the church – has been formed more by human, sinful constructs instead of what God actually said? What if I told you that what often gets passed as “biblical headship” or “biblical submission” in marriage has more to do with Victorian England than the Bible?
During the Victorian era (roughly 1840-1901), the western world was divided into two spheres, one of savage business dominated by men and one of purity and idealize femininity kept by women. That happened because (as some believed) “men possessed the capacity for reason, action, aggression, independence, and self-interest [thus belonging to the public sphere]. Women inhabited a separate, private sphere, one suitable for the so called inherent qualities of femininity: emotion, passivity, submission, dependence, and selflessness…” Some bought into the two-sphere worldview because of “science.” Others because of their faulty readings of texts like the one in front of us. But, whatever the reason, clear boundaries were drawn, especially when it came to husbands and wives. Wives had “their place” and it was beneath their husband.
Now, I’m not saying that this is the only cultural construct causing problems understanding what God’s word actually says. But what I’m suggesting is that it’s naïve to think that we come to this text free and clear. We don’t come to it with the ability to look at it objectively. Instead, we come as the inheritors of sin and sinful ways of thinking – ways of thinking that sometimes bear the name “Christian” (like the Victorian mentality regarding men and women) but are actually sub-Christian, less than Christian.
What is fully Christian is that which is Christ-like. And Christ-likeness in marriage is what Peter is urging believers to pursue in this passage. He’s helping us understand how the Gospel of Jesus means the undoing of the Curse that has dominated our relationships – with God and with one another – ever since the Fall in Eden.
Think back in the Story to Genesis, to what happened when our first father and mother disobeyed God and decided that they wanted to live life on their own terms. What happened when the first married couple – once “naked and not ashamed” – what happened when they tried to find life apart from God?
First, they felt their nakedness and it felt deeply wrong. They hid from God and wanted nothing to do with him, preferring the darkness of the shadows to walking in the light with their Maker.
But they found, too, that their relationships with one another had been shattered. How quickly did Adam throw his wife “under the bus” when confronted by God? His defense to God for his disobedience was an attack on her; “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:12) Where he first rejoiced in her as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” (Gen. 2:23), in sin he saw her as a stumbling block and blamed her for his own disobedience. She was a part of him, given by God so that he could actually accomplish the task for which God had created him – to fill the earth and glorify God and enjoy Him forever! But now he was broken by sin and couldn’t see her as she needed to be seen.
And the woman herself wasn’t immune from the effects of rebellion. Do you remember the consequences for her? God said to her, “…Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” The headship of Adam in their relationship predates the Fall. It was Adam who was made first and was given to role of name-giver, a role of authority. Before the Fall that authority had been a loving authority enabling Adam to build his wife up. And she thrived in that relationship. But after the Fall, his role was a threat, an obstacle she would want to overcome.
The “desire…for (her) husband” here is not the desire of romantic love. It is the same desire spoken of in the very next chapter of Genesis, where sin crouches at Cain’s door and its “desire is for” him. It is the desire for control. This is what we see so often in marriages. The husband fails to lead his wife in a loving and sacrificial way and the wife takes charge. She is capable, indeed. She can lead. But does that marriage thrive? Or does resentment creep in? His failure becomes a snare for both of them.
That’s what the darkness of sin looks like. It looks like husbands dismissing their wives as if they can image God without them. It looks like husbands domineering over their wives as if headship is supposed to be used for the man’s own comfort and well-being. Darkness looks like a wife belittling a husband’s failures and confronting the fear-filled future by taking control into their own hands.
Whether you’re married or hope to be married; whether you’re a husband or wife or a child living with one or both parents, we have to realize that what is “normal” for us – broken relationships and power-plays – what is “normal” for us is not the way it’s supposed to be.
But Peter is taking believing husbands and wives back to the Gospel that says in Christ God has “called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Peter is teaching us how to live as the new people of God who follow the pattern of life Jesus left for us. Following our Savior who died and rose again while entrusting himself to his faithful God, we, too, are called to follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21). We are called and freed in Christ to begin imaging Jesus to one another in our marriages.
So, Peter begins by addressing wives. (Vv.1-2) “Likewise, wives, be subject to you own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives – when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
We have to understand that this was as radical a call back then as it is today. A wife in Roman society at the time was worse off in many respects than the women of the Victorian era. Isolated in the home, vulnerable to every whim of her husband’s desire or violence, the Roman wife could suffer deeply, especially at the hands of an unbelieving husband.
So, why would Peter ask her to be subject to that sort of man? The answer, I believe, is that Peter understands a godly wife is a powerful instrument in the hands of the living God.
This is not a call to submit because she deserves it. It is not a call to submit because of any inherent inferiority in her. It’s not even a call to do everything the husband says (as submission is often portrayed). It’s a call to be subject to her husband – even an unbelieving husband – because her respectful conduct would be a larger thorn in his side than any sustained distain she could muster. She is called to be subject to him as a form of evangelism, used by God to work repentance and faith in him, because as he watches her suffer and entrust herself to her faithful God he would see in her the very form of Jesus.
She would be no small, timid woman but a quiet and powerful agent of the living God. With her hope in Christ, she could wade into the fearful waves of uncertainty knowing that she was not alone. Her Shepherd and Overseer had His eyes on her and she – clothed in the gentle and quiet spirit that belongs to her in Christ – she was very precious in the sight of God (3:4). So, what the future held she did not know. But she could know that her Redeemer lives.
For the believing wife, of the utmost importance is living out this Christ-likeness – even in relationship with a husband who isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing. That’s why Peter wouldn’t have his sisters in Christ focusing only on the outside – the external things that fade. (By the way, some take this to mean women should dress nicely or wear make-up. That’s not what Peter’s talking about here. If you followed this text to the letter, women wouldn’t be wearing clothes and how is that going to help modesty?) No, Peter is saying that of the utmost importance is the imperishable beauty of Christ visible in his people, suffering for the sake of others.
This absolutely requires a new way of thinking for us. One writer puts it this way when it comes to encountering such a trial:
“...We must say to ourselves something like this: 'Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn't think "I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me." No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us - denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him - and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.' Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.”
Please don’t misunderstand. The Scriptures are more gracious than Roman society ever was when it comes to protecting abused women. For the wife whose husband has deserted her through abuse or sexual unfaithfulness, our Lord himself permits divorce (though he does not require it).
But for every marriage in which the man is a sinner, the hope here is that God may use His daughter to open the eyes of her husband. She may not even need to speak a word because the Spirit inside her will speak louder than she ever could.
Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, wrote a book with his wife, Kathy, which I’d commend to you. It’s called The Meaning of Marriage and in it Kathy tells a story from their early years of church planting in the city when he was working long hours and was neglecting his family. So, she says, she threw a “godly tantrum.”
"I took the china, and took them out to our balcony and when he came in I was smashing them with the hammer. I had to do some dramatic thing to get his attention to show he was breaking things."
That image doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical image of a “submissive” wife, does it? And yet it was a godly woman respectfully and violently showing her husband what she needed from him. But even in that act she kept being subject to him, not mocking him in front of her friends or trying to take his place, but rather asking him to fulfill the role God had for him as a husband.
I’m not saying this is easy. Actually, humanly speaking it is impossible. But with God and as the daughter of God it is possible. Pray, wives, that you might help your husbands be the man God calls him to be.
That role as a husband is what Peter turns to next. You might ask, “Okay, so why do the wives get a whole paragraph and husbands only get one sentence?” A fair question, but I’ll ask one in return. What if more was written to women because their husbands are more broken? What if it has less to do with an inherent weakness in the wives and more to do with the weakness of their husbands?
Still, to husbands Peter writes, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
With these words, Peter turns the entire Roman society on its head, showing that the Gospel is not the balancing of the pendulum, but another way of living altogether.
Because what “understanding” did a Roman man need to give to his wife? His word was law. What honor did he need to show her? The honor belonged to him as the head of the family. Her physical weakness was a sign of his superiority. And what could she own apart from him? Whatever she had before marriage became his property – she owned nothing for herself.
But that is not the way of the Gospel. In Christ, the barriers that caged women had come crashing down. In Christ, the dignity of women was restored and the purpose for which they were made – to image their God in a way that men cannot – was taken up again. In Christ, husbands and wives together are dependent on the grace and mercy of God and have nothing without it.
And so, believing husbands, to live with your wife “in an understanding way,” is to remember that she is a fellow heir of the same grace and hope as yourself. It is to remember that you may never domineer over her or assert your own rights above hers because she is a daughter of the living God and we would do well to remember as such. If we do not, Peter says, we should have no assurance that our prayers will be heard unless we repent and believe the Gospel.
To live with her in an understanding way is to recognize who she is in Christ and deal with her as Christ himself deals with his bride, the Church. Loving. Gentle. Patient with weakness. Always covering over her sin with mercy. Always using his strength – even physical strength – to protect her. Where wives image Christ to us through submitting themselves to our leadership, we who are husbands are called to image Christ to our wives through sacrificing ourselves for the good of our bride.
Husbands, this is a call to remember how much you need your bride, how you aren’t complete without her at your side. It is the call to live with her in such a way as to die to yourself for her good and honor. The truth is that in almost every culture, men have all the power. But by the grace of Christ you are able to use your power to serve, not to dominate, because Christ has served you. With your faith in him, reveling in the grace and forgiveness he offers you, you are free to serve your brides.
Wives, you, too, are free in Christ so that whatever your earthly marriage looks like, you have a heavenly husband who is faithful to you. So, you don’t have to establish an identity for yourself through appearances and you don’t have to live in fear of the possibilities that are out there. They are fearful, indeed, but the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul has his eyes on you and has clothed you as His own daughter. Serve him by doing good to your husband – even when they do not deserve it – knowing that he may be won through by the power of God and the image of Christ he sees in you.
For those of you who are not married, but want to be, this text is meant to show what marriage really is – two broken sinners learning how to live together with their hope in Christ. Too often our culture tells us to find in another person what is impossible to find. “Find your perfect husband or wife,” they say. But I can promise you that no such person exists and expecting a husband or wife to be perfect will lay a crushing burden on them and lead to heartache. Instead, look for a man or woman who loves Christ more than you and is willing to be patient with you. And may your love of Christ be bigger than your love for them, too.
Children, pray for your parents that they would set their hope fully on Christ alone and learn, more and more, to live this way with one another. It’s not easy for us because we’re sinners. But this is what is good for us and what’s good for us is good for you, too.
The good news of Jesus is meant to bring life and health and wholeness where there was only death and shattered relationships before. It’s the announcement that the Curse is being undone through the death and resurrection of Jesus. By faith in him, we are restored to God as His children. And by faith in him there is hope for our relationships with one another – even the most fundamental relationships between husbands and wives – to be restored. So, pray with me, that what the Lord asks of us he would strengthen us to do. We really are weak and this really is hard. May we learn to rely all the more on Christ and may he make his power known in the face of our weakness.
[Pray – Father, marriage is hard. But no one understands that better than our Savior whose Bride was running away from his perfect love. But still he came and died to purify us and win us back to himself. Father, help us to see and embrace his love, running back to him in faith. And help us to learn what it means to show the love of Christ to one another, especially in our marriages. For the sake of Jesus we ask this, for his glory and for the good of his Bride. Amen.]
[Transition to Lord’s Supper]
If you would learn what a husband’s love is supposed to look like, then look to the table set in front of us. Here is the proof of Jesus’ love for you and his intention to make you his own. This is the time, Bride of Christ, to see and taste and smell and touch the body and blood of your faithful husband, who laid down his rights and his power and his very life to cleanse us from sin and to make us his own. How difficult is it to submit to that kind of husband? How hard is it to yield to his loving leadership?
So, come, Bride. Come by faith, receiving what Christ has done in his death on the cross for us. Take hope that whatever failure of yesterday or today or tomorrow is covered by his blood and his grace. Come to your husband who shows you in this meal that he will never leave you or forsake you, but will always take care of you.
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
 Susan Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain1860-1914, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 30.
 Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage