Likewise, Ye Wives

Continuing my series of sermons on I Peter (I’ll return to Bibliology, Lord willing, in a couple of days).  This sermon, for wives, and the next, for husbands, brought more comment and discussion than any other sermon summaries I have written down through the years.

Update: For husbands.

Tried With Fire — I Peter


Introductory comment #1: Though this passage is for wives, it should have something for everyone. For husbands, it gives some guidance on what you should be helping your wife to be. For young women, it tells what you should be working to become, that you may be the kind of wife God would have you be if He gives you a husband. For young men, it tells the characteristics you should seek in a wife. For older women, it gives guidance in teaching the younger women, and for older men, it gives guidance in counseling younger couples and husbands.

Introductory comment #2: “Likewise.” These verses are a continuation of the section that began in 2:11, where Peter exhorts us to live as “strangers and pilgrims”. Our lives are to be different. We are to be different from the world in our response to governmental authority, to employers/masters, and in our marital relationships. Our standards are not to be the standards of this world, for we are strangers and pilgrims.

The first word of chapter three connects the exhortation to wives inextricably with the exhortations that have come before. And as those exhortations find their force in the example of Christ (3:21-25), so also does the exhortation to wives. Thus, Ephesians 5 makes Christ’s love in going to the cross the example for husbands. I Peter 2:21-3:6 makes Christ’s obedience in going to the cross the example for wives.

I. Strangers in Submission (1-2)

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

God’s standards for a wife’s submission are far different from the world’s.

A. Wives are to be Continuing in Subjection. As we have seen before, subjection/submission does not mean inferiority, it means different roles. Nor does it mean a husband is to walk all over his wife. God’s ideal is that husband and wife should agree together on things — but we might say that the husband holds the tie-breaking vote, when there is no agreement.  The responsibility (and the authority that comes with responsibility) are his.

Here, the wives are commanded to be in subjection; the husbands are not commanded to put them there. God expects wives to subject themselves to their husband’s authority. A husband should rarely give orders, for he should not need to — the wife who is in active submission will act first.

B. To YOUR Husband — All Types. This includes husbands who obey not the Word. A wife is not just responsible for submission if he is a believer and a good husband. Your husband is not perfect, you probably know his flaws better than he does, but he is the one to whom God tells you to be in submission. If you say, “I can’t submit to him, look at what he is like,” Peter would respond, “So he doesn’t obey the Word. I’ve covered that base.” And he covered it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is the Word of God to wives with THAT kind of husband. Your husband’s flaws are no excuse — it is YOUR husband to whom you are to submit, whether he obeys the Word or not.

C. God’s Way to Change Him. If your husband needs changed, God’s way to do so through you is without the word, by your pure and respectful behaviour. Nagging or berating him for his failures is NOT God’s way to deal with his faults.

In fact, nagging or berating a husband creates a no-win situation for him. Every husband (deep-down) knows he is supposed to be head of the home. If a wife nags, criticises, or demands that he do right, he has two bad choices. One is to do the right thing that she is telling him to do — but that is a tacit acceptance of her authority over him.  God did not design a husband to submit to his wife, and he knows he shouldn’t submit to her. But his other option is to dig in his heels, refuse to grant her the authority to tell him what to do, and not do the right thing that she wants him to do — which is wrong.  When a wife tries to exert authority, the husband is in a no-win situation.

A wife who tries to assert authority over a husband in these ways, even if for a good purpose, is doing great damage, and usually pushes him to the second option. This does not mean a wife cannot request her husband to change what he is doing. It does mean she must not do so in a way that challenges his authority.

Nor is God’s way to change a husband found in complaining about him to others. It is interesting that while some women frequently complain about their husbands, men very, very rarely do so — it is too painful and personal for men, when their wives hurt them. I can think of very few men I have ever heard really complain about their wives — it only happens when things break down completely. On the other hand, I can’t even count the number of women I have heard complain about their husbands. Complaining about a husband to other people will not change him. In fact, it is a form of unfaithfulness — in essence, you are saying you wish you were married to someone else.

Why does God’s way work? At least one reason is that men are protectors. God has built into man the natural tendency to protect that which is his. (That is one reason why it is generally men, not women, that go to war.) When a woman places herself in dependence on her husband, under his protection, and trusts him to care for her, there is something within him that answers to that, with a desire to protect her and care for her. Her trust is valuable to him, and while he may test it at first to see if it is real, he will not lightly trample it under foot. To trustingly submit is an appeal to the image of God which is in the husband, an appeal with a powerful impact on most men.

II. Strangers in Adornment (3-4).

3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

Godly wives are to adorn themselves differently from the world.

A. Not Outward Adornment, but the Inward Man. The contrast here is interesting, for Peter does not contrast outward ADORNMENT with inward ADORNMENT, he contrasts outward adornment with the inner person. An adornment is temporary, for it can be taken off. It is external and can be seen, but it is not necessarily representative of the true person. God wants not superficiality, whether physical or spiritual superficiality, but reality.  A spiritual show is as useless as a physical show — in fact, in some ways it is worse.  The inner man is the real thing.

B. This Instruction is Comparative, not Prohibitive. Verse three is sometimes understood as prohibiting outward adornment for women, and standing alone, it could certainly be understood that way. But there are serious problems with such an interpretation.

Note particularly Psalms 45:11-14, the Wedding Psalm. Here a wedding is used to illustrate the love relationship between God and His people.  The husband’s desire for his wife’s beauty, and her adorning, both outward and inward, are specifically mentioned as part of the picture. In this passage, the bride wears gold and fine apparel (which are specifically mentioned in I Peter 3:3). It is inconceivable that God would have used such an illustration to demonstrate the love and worship that He wants from us if the wearing of gold and fine apparel were contrary to His standards for godly wives. In fact, outward adorning is one way a wife honours her husband’s delight in her beauty, and verse 11 of Psalm 45 indicates that honour is the godly response to his delight.

If this is not prohibitive, how then do we understand these verses? A good parallel would be the instruction of Christ not to lay up treasure on earth, but to lay up treasure in heaven. This does not mean it is wrong to have money, or open a savings account. It DOES mean that we are to set our affection on things above. A wife who concentrates on outward adorning, and sets her affection on such things, is not strengthening the inner person of the heart. Perhaps a good test is to ask:  how much time do you spend on outward adorning (better count shopping for shoes, clothes, jewelry, etc), and how much time do you spend on knowing and serving the Lord? What about your financial resources — where are they going?

C. The Incorruptible Thing, a Meek and Quiet Spirit. The thing godly wives are to really seek is the thing that lasts forever, a meek and quiet spirit. That is the real thing, the thing that matters. Peter may have even been intentionally drawing the attention of his readers to the instruction of Christ (mentioned above) about laying up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt.

D. In the Sight of God. There is a direct contrast between the beginning of verse 3, outward adornment, and the end of verse 4, “in the sight of God.” One is in the sight of others, is superficial, and does not last. The other is in the sight of God. Oh, that we could be such that, when He sees our inner person of the heart, it is precious in His sight. That is of eternal value, and is the only thing that really matters.

III. Strangers in the Examples We Follow (5-6).

5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:
6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord….

Godly wives do not follow the examples of the world. There will be those in the media, on the news, in entertainment, that will set examples in behaviour, words, and appearance, and the world follows those examples. Not so for the godly wife — she is not of this world.

A. Holy Examples. The best example a wife can follow is a holy one. Even if someone seems to have a happy marriage, if they do not know and follow the Lord, they are not a good example.

B. Trusting Examples. You MUST trust the Lord if you are going to follow His instructions on submission, for this makes you very vulnerable. If you are trusting your husband, he will fail that trust, for he is not perfect. He WILL make wrong decisions, he will be selfish at times, he will put you in bad situations, and you will have consequences because of his failures. Those things are going to happen.  It is inevitable.  You must trust the Lord that He knows what He is doing, and His plan is always best. You should follow examples that trust in this way.

C. Examples Who are Adorned for God. The reference here is directly back to verse four. Follow examples who have the inner beauty of a meek and quiet spirit.

D. Examples Who Obey their Husbands. Sarah particularly is mentioned. Note that Sarah’s husband put her in very bad situations at least twice, but she is given as an example of obedience, and God protected her in those situations.

E. Examples Who Honour their Husbands. Sarah called Abraham “lord.” It is clear from the context (Genesis 18:12) that she was saying this in her inner thoughts, rather than speaking to anyone else. She had internalised a respect for her husband that affected her everyday speech and her thoughts — it was not a show she put on for someone.

IV. You Became Daughters of Sarah

6 …whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Although the verb here is translated “are,” the past action in becoming a daughter of Sarah is fully in view as well.  We might say “whose daughters ye became and are.”  Some have translated the “doing well” clause as “and are doing well and not fearing….”  The sense either way is effectively the same.  To be doing well as a wife is to be a daughter of Sarah, and to be a daughter of Sarah is to be doing well as a wife.

A. You have Been Born Into this Life. You weren’t naturally this kind of wife, but you have been born into a new life.  A godly wife is to live her life as these verses have described — it is part of her new life in Christ. Those who trust Christ are called “children of Abraham” in faith, so also women of faith have been born into this new life, in which they are called “daughters of Sarah.”

B. Continue Doing Well. Christian wives have already started on the path of well-doing. So they are to continue.

C. Continue Fearing no Terror. The vulnerability of a wife who submits to her husband, as God has commanded, is not a cause for terror. Her trust is in God — He is her Protector.  A wife need fear neither her husband’s failings as a husband, nor any other terror, for she is in the hand of the Almighty.

First in series: #1 Strangers Scattered
Next in series: #6 Likewise, Ye Husbands

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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