The next step in our walk through 1st Peter is like a walking a high tension wire over a deep canyon. Peter bravely steps into our closest relationship, drops words that are challenging for some and troubling to others. We can think of a thousand exceptions and nearly as many objections. We can either skip over this part and declare it to be a cultural abnormality. Or we can take it hyper-literally and change our most intimate of relationship into something akin to slavery. I will endeavor to do neither. I trust God’s word, and so we will wrestle to find the balance inherent in Peter’s words to walk the wire.
Welcome to our 15th installment in our Walk Through 1st Peter. Previous articles can be found on our website – Lambchow.com. Peter wrote, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—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. 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; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:1–7, NASB95)
Men and Women
Men and women are different. These differences imply absolutely zero about the respective importance of men and women. Jesus values both equally. But understanding these difference will help us walk the high wire Peter has set before us. In general broad brush terms, women are nurturers and have a high motivation toward safety. Using the same broad brush men are providers and have a high motivation towards significance. There are of course multitudes of degrees and mixtures of attitudes that make us all somewhat unique. The core, however, remains.
Each marriage is also unique since each partner brings different strengths and weaknesses into the relationship. A dance begins after the bride and groom says “I do” where they work out their marriage relationship. There must be give and take as boundaries and expectations are cemented into place. There must also be give and take as the circumstances of life change with the addition of children, the empty nest, medical issues, and old age.
Peter places seemingly different charges on men and women in these verses. What I see is that each prescription is designed to speak to the basic needs of the other partner in marriage.
Honor and Be Submissive
We can’t separate the respective direction given to husbands and wives. To do so risks falling off of the wire and into the canyon.
Remember that women, in general, desire to feel safe. Men are therefore instructed, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” Many have taken those words about the wives being weaker as some kind of put down. That was not Peter’s intention.
I look at it this way. We handle the things we value differently than the common things of life. We don’t treat a hammer the same way we do a precious piece of jewelry. Or consider the difference between a clay gardening pot and a fine china plate. Both are made with like material yet one is stored in the garage while the other is kept in a special place. One is treated roughly with no thought if it breaks. The other is treated with care, and there is a feeling of loss if one is broken. Even the word husband speaks of care and gentleness, like a shepherd with a lamb or a gardener caring for a prized rose.
By honoring and caring, husbands create a safe place for their bride. It doesn’t mean that the woman is weak or of less value – quite the opposite. It does mean that the wife is second only to God among all the relationships the husband holds dear and that she is treasured.
Likewise, a wife being submissive touches that need for significance men have. Let’s scrape away the barnacles from that word submission. We all submit every day and don’t think much about it. We submit to the laws of the land. We stop at red lights. We drive somewhere close to the speed limit. We pay our taxes and respect the property of others. We submit to the demands of our work whether that is the directions of the boss or the needs of the customer. Let’s look at another example.
Inside the Godhead of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit we see equality in all ways yet with a seeming hierarchy of purpose. Jesus told us that He only does what He sees the Father doing (John 5:19). Even the terms Father and Son demonstrate a degree of hierarchy. Likewise with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, ““But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:13–14, NASB95) Again, equal in every way yet with a demonstration of willing submission.
In our individualistic society, we bristle at the thought of having to submit. Yet we see a willingness in the Trinity to submit in ways we can’t imagine. Submission is not lessening it is completing. But we must be careful to not remove it from its setting.
Where some folks err in these and like verses is that they divorce how we are to treat our spouse from how we are to treat one another in Christ. That somehow the marriage vows trump God’s command to love another, build up one another, comfort one another, challenge one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, and yes even submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
The ideal is not that the man makes all the decisions and the woman goes along. But that they meet each other’s needs. The man’s need for significance is impacted as the woman boosts his mission in life. The woman’s need for safety is made sure as the man values, cherishes, honors, and protects. This is not to say that the woman doesn’t have goals or a mission or that the man doesn’t care about his own safety. But these are the relative weights we see in Peter’s instruction.
There are more varieties of how this all plays out than we can express. But let’s remember what love is all about. We see the need of another and then willingly and sacrificially do something to fulfill it. Men shouldn’t demand submission, that is lording over someone and is not love. Neither should women lord it over their husband. But what submission and honor look like in your home will be different than mine. In one home the man does the finances, in another the woman. In one home the man is the spender and the woman the saver, but in another home the exact opposite is true. In some homes, the man is the primary provider, but in others the wife is. The same can be said about many things. It is impossible to paint a picture or design rules that would work in every home and every marriage.
These varieties of life, ability, and circumstances don’t, however, negate Peter’s instruction.
Why is this important? Why did Peter spend time defining the relationship and attitudes between husbands and wives? He gives us that answer – so that your prayers will not be hindered. Our primary relationship of marriage either boosts our prayers or hinders them. Remember, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered, he’s there. Last time I counted a husband and wife praying would qualify. But if we fall off the high-wire by either throwing out Peter’s instruction or by making them a way to control another then we are no longer praying in unity and our prayers are hindered.