As Christians, we do not look to the culture or to personal experience to define what we believe. We don’t take opinion polls to find out what’s not offensive for us to preach. Our standard for everything we believe, everything we preach, and everything we live must not come from the subjective opinions of man, but from the objective truth of God’s written word – the Bible.
And that’s still true for difficult texts, parts of the Bible we might prefer were not there, parts that are so counter-cultural they make us squirm. 1 Peter 3:1-6 is one of those texts.
In this part of Peter’s letter, he’s been instructing new Christians how to glorify God and live a Christ-exalting example, right where they are. Citizens of Rome, obey the governmental authorities over you as a witness for Christ. Servants, obey your masters as a witness for Christ. And now he includes marriage, particularly a Christian wife married to a non-Christian husband. Two things we see:
1. A wife reflects Christ through godly submission to her husband (1 Peter 3:1-2)
You don’t get more counter-cultural than this – “wives, submit to your husbands”. Now, for some Christians who get this (we go by the fancy word “complementarians”), this is no big deal. For others – inside and outside the church – this kind of talk can make their heads explode.
So, here’s what this does not mean:
-It does not mean the wife is a doormat, that she blindly follows her husband.
-It does not mean she is a second-class citizen, that she is less valued before God or less capable than her husband.
-It does not mean that wives are to be submitted to every man. Peter says, “to your own husbands”. There is a special responsibility a wife has to her husband, and a husband to his wife.
-It does not mean that wives are commanded to follow their husbands into sin, but it means that God will use their submission and godly conduct to influence and win over their husbands.
-And it does not mean the husband is always right. We are all sinners saved by grace, and in need of grace – not if – but when we fail.
Here’s what godly submission from a wife to her husband means: By entrusting herself to God through faith, a Christian wife willingly and joyfully follows the leadership of her husband.
Peter tells Christian wives to be subject to their husbands, even husbands who are not godly, so that the unsaved husband may be “won” over, that he would be convinced of the saving power of Jesus and desire to follow Christ as well, all by the witness and the conduct of his Christian wife. God is using the wife as an evangelist to her husband.
Think about it this way – we will spend thousands of dollars and travel hundreds of miles and sacrifice time and safety and comfort to go on mission trips to spread the gospel. But we hesitate when it comes to our own home. Peter is encouraging wives that they have a mission field right in their home by shining the light of Christ to their husbands.
2. A wife reflects Christ by adorning an inward, spiritual beauty (1 Peter 3:3-6)
Apparently in this ancient culture, women would wear expensive jewelry and braid their hair intertwined with gold thread, as a display of their wealth and their social status. Their “adorning” was external. They paid more attention to the outside appearance than they did the condition of their hearts.
While these examples may have some cultural limitations, the underlying lesson applies to today as well. For those who belong to Christ – men and women – we are not to find our identity in our wealth or social status, we are not to try to prove our importance or to get attention or try to impress others by our material possessions or what we drive or what we wear.
Our identity is in Christ. The power of the gospel is best displayed – not by a decorated body, but by a transformed heart.
Peter is also touching on something that has direct application for us today, and that is the issue of modesty. Modesty is a spiritual virtue that consciously resists drawing attention to one’s outer appearance in order to highlight inner character and beauty.
That’s the essence of what Peter is instructing for wives. Dress up and adorn the “hidden person of the heart”. Cultivate your inner beauty through godly character, through a humble demeanor, through a worshipful heart – these things do not fade, they don’t go out of style with the fashion trends, because they aren’t focused on the flesh.
Inward, lasting beauty that God is talking about here is reflected in a gentle and quiet spirit – one that has been softened by the love and mercy and grace of Jesus. A woman with a gentle and quiet spirit is one that is not intent on fighting for her own way or grumbling about her circumstance. Instead she has entrusted herself to the Savior, knowing that He cares for her, He is faithful, and He is sufficient to meet every need.
And this is precious in God’s sight.
Both men and women, both husbands and wives will fail at our roles. That’s why we all need grace. We need to receive that grace from the Lord, and we need to give that grace to one another.
(Next week, we will unpack 1 Peter 3:7 and the instructions for husbands.)