The Ambassador’s Submission in Marriage Part 1: A Word to Wives (1 Peter 3:1-6)
Peter is continuing his mini-theme of submission. He started by saying submit to the government or human authority in 1 Pet. 2:13-17, then submit at the workplace in 1 Pet. 2:18-20, following Jesus as the supreme and ultimate example of submission (1 Pet. 2:21-25) and now submission of wives in marriage. This is a touchy and controversial topic and usually it is because people are more concerned about themselves and their rights than advancing the kingdom of God or making the name of Christ look great. But if we come into this text with the mentality of what does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ in my marriage, we might start to see things God’s way. Now before you singles and husbands tune off here for this message, though you may not feel the direct impact of these verses today, everyone here either knows a wife they can pray these things for or hopes to be a wife or hopes to find a wife that follows the Scriptures.
Let’s begin with a brief look at the cultural context here. Notice that Peter mentions unbelieving husbands in 1 Pet. 3:1. So we get a clue that Peter is addressing wives, especially those who were unbelievers, got saved and then now had to live with an unbelieving husband. If you were a woman and you got married in that day, you would follow your husband’s religion. No questions asked. In fact William Barclay notes, “In every sphere of ancient civilization, women had no rights at all. Under Jewish law a woman was a thing; she was owned by her husband in exactly the same way as he owned his sheep and his goats; on no account could she leave him, although he could dismiss her at any moment. For a wife to change her religion while her husband did not was unthinkable.” So Peter is doing something revolutionary for that culture. He is not only supporting the wives’ decision to turn to Christ for salvation, he is also encouraging them to turn their husbands to Christ as well. How he sees them doing this is what he wants to address.
We also get a clue from this phrase “not a word” in 1 Pet. 3:1 that these wives had been certainly trying “to explain their new faith to them and some husbands probably would have visited their wives’ church to see what was going on. Since these men had not accepted the gospel, they were likely discouraging their wives’ dedication to Christ and attendance at Christian activities, especially when they discovered that the women no longer accepted their household religion.”
So what should these wives do? Obviously Peter does not suggest that these women stop their Christian activities, yet he does not see them leaving or using their freedom in Christ in disrespecting and disregarding their husbands either. But he is at the same time addressing all wives as well. And as the wife realizes she is an ambassador of Christ as her Lord and Savior, she can effectively do and be all that God asks her to do and be.
I want to first preface this message by saying that it is never God’s will that a believer marries an unbeliever. Never. Can God redeem a marriage between a believer and unbeliever? Absolutely. Is it guaranteed? No. I don’t think Peter would say here that the godly behavior of the believing wife guarantees that her husband will be saved. Peter’s point is that the wife needs to be a help and not a hindrance to bring him to saving faith.
Let me tell you that I have seen a lot more unequally yoked marriages take the believing spouse downward spiritually than the other way. 2 Cor. 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Some would argue that Paul is not talking about marriage there, but business partnerships. I would disagree, but here is another passage: 1 Cor. 7:39. Marriage is for oneness (physically, emotionally and spiritually). God wanted us to experience what we experience with Him once we are believers through the picture of marriage. It is horrible to sabotage that gift by letting our emotions and pressure from people cause us to marry outside of God’s will.
With that said, I want to outline this message very simply by saying what submission IS NOT in marriage and then by what submission IS in marriage from 1 Pet. 3:1-6. So first:
I. What submission is NOT in marriage:
The same word is used of Christ submitting to God in 1 Cor. 15:27-28 and obviously Jesus Christ is in no way inferior to God. Paul just said in Col. 3:11 that the ground is level at the cross. In Gal. 3:28, Paul says in regards to salvation, we are all one in Christ Jesus, whether male or female. The issue is not worth, but order.
Wives should never submit to anything that violates God’s Word. When it comes to something contrary to God’s Word, we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). And if the husband is abusive physically, separation is encouraged.
Ephesians 5:22 makes it clear that the submission is only to their own husbands and not other men. Notice here in 1 Peter 3:1: “Wives, be submissive to YOUR OWN husbands.” We should submit to governmental authority, our employees and elders in the church (1 Pet. 5:5) as well, but when it comes to marriage, it is wives, to their husbands and not to all men in general.
It does not mean sitting quietly around your house, making no eye contact, head down, only talking when asked and going about doing your duties, without any opinions or thoughts. When you read Proverbs 31, you don’t find that. You find a woman with a lot of creative energy, with a lot of spunk and someone who is industrious. The Bible does not say only introverts are truly submissive. A woman can be an extrovert and yet submissive. Just as much as an introverted husband can lead a family as much as an extroverted husband. We will talk about what it means to have a “gentle and quiet spirit” in 1 Pet. 3:4.
It does not mean you never criticize your husband. In fact, constructive criticism that is motivated by love and corrective in nature does not contradict biblical submission. It does not mean you cannot make any requests of him. It does not mean you cannot teach your husband (Prov. 31:26; Acts 18:26). I have learned a lot of things from my wife!
II. What submission IS in marriage (1 Pet. 3:1-6)
a) Persuading with your walk over talk (1 Pet. 3:1-2)
Peter has been highlighting lifestyle evangelism as ambassadors. Look back at 1 Pet. 2:12. Go down to 1 Pet. 2:15, again “doing good.” Notice even in talking about Jesus: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” His walk mentioned before His talk. So “likewise” Peter says, wives be submissive with your conduct more than your words. Again, submission means to “willingly place yourself under another.” I like what Barclay says, it is “voluntary selflessness. It is the submission which is based on the death of pride and the desire to serve. It is the submission not of fear but of perfect love.”The tense here is “Submit yourselves.” In other words, it is a choice from the wife to the husband. Submission is never to be demanded from the husband. And it does not come naturally as we learned last week. It is a supernatural act fueled by the wife for the purposes of fearing God and being part of His plan to advance the gospel. Notice Peter went to the cross as the basis and motivation for us in our walk. It is true as well to be a submissive ambassador in marriage.
Peter is not saying never preach the gospel. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). My understanding from this passage is that the wife has presented her husband with the gospel, but he has chosen to reject it. Notice: “if some do not obey the word” meaning it is their lifestyle to reject the gospel. As a result, the husband, whether by word or deed, has then indicated to his wife that he wishes to no hear no more of it. If this is the case, Bob Deffinbaugh says, “Let the husband see the word as his wife lives it out in the context of their marriage. Here is the real test. Can the wife trust God to save her husband by her silence?”
Again, he is not saying give him the “silent treatment” if he refuses to hear the gospel. He is simply saying the proverbial “your actions will speak louder to him than your words.” Once he has made it clear that he has heard enough, invest time to see the Word of God change your heart and let him see it as well. Notice 1 Pet. 2:2. Your walk is respectful, again the word “fear” is behind this word, implying you are walking in the fear of God as you submit. Your motivation comes from wanting God’s pleasure and blessing for your marriage by being obedient to Him. Pure is the idea of moral purity. You are not manipulative or have a secret agenda or in trying to persuade your husband. You fear God above all.
The application here for marriage in general is that if husbands are guilty of neglect in their marriage (which we will get to next week, Lord willing), the women are guilty of nagging in their marriage. Solomon says the nagging wife is like a constant dripping (Prov. 19:13) and it is better to live on a roof than with a contentious woman (Prov. 21:9). The last thing husbands need are nagging wives, repeating things over and over and some constantly pointing out their flaws and disrespecting them. Pastor Stephen Cole says, “Nagging will do one of two things to men: Either it will make him resist and become obstinate, or he will give in to keep the peace. Either response is not good for the wife. If the husband becomes more obstinate, he can become abusive. This creates distance in the relationship. If he gives in to keep the peace, he becomes passive and the wife is put in the role of the decision maker, out from under the covering of blessing and protection that God designed proper authority to be.” Nagging can be used by the enemy to create isolation, the enemy of oneness in the marriage.
I know, I know, wives are thinking: “Well, I wouldn’t be this way if he changed!” I have heard some wives say: “Well, I make better decisions than he can and so I nag him because if I don’t do it, then it won’t get done!” Well, apparently you are not the best decision maker after all because your decision making skills led you to an indecisive husband!
What we need is loving motivation. Wives, we need you to be our #1 fan and supporter. We need loving motivation! We don’t need you broadcasting our flaws before our peers or parents. Notice the phrase “win over.” This word “is applied figuratively of gaining or winning someone over to one’s side, in this case to the side of Christ.” I like that picture of winning us over to Christ; i.e. to get us on Christ’s side. Ultimately the wives need servant leaders, men who are under the authority and leadership of Christ to lovingly lead their home. But the men fail. We need wives to win us over to Christ again.
Wives, win us over by coming alongside us and affirming us. Win us over by showing confidence in our decisions. Husbands do not always make the wisest of decisions, but when we do, take notice of it and affirm it. That will empower us to take more ownership in the family and responsibility. Win us over by building loyalty to us in the children. This means if you have disagreements, discuss it alone and not in front of the children. You do not want your children to be taking sides with you. This destroys the unity in the home. Persuade us by your walk. Let us catch you in prayer and not gossiping over the phone. Let us be driven by your godliness to love God as well. Win us over not by reacting to us, but responding to us as you respond to the Lord working in your life. Create an environment in your home where husbands can be persuaded to come over to the side of Christ and be that sacrificial loving leader that you want him to be.
b) Cultivating lasting character over temporary countenance (1 Pet. 3:3-4)
Peter goes a little deeper now for the wives. He was talking about actions over words, but now wants wives to focus on character and attitudes over countenance and outer beauty. Adorning is the Greek word, “cosmos” which means “orderly arrangement,” where we get the word “cosmetics” from. Their culture is no different from our day: extreme focus on hair, jewelry and clothes. John Macarthur writes, “In the Greco-Roman culture, women were devoted to superficial adornment, often wearing the best cosmetics, dying their hair outlandish colors, braiding it elaborately, and wearing—especially on their heads—costly jewelry to crown their elegant clothing.”
Look over at all the ads today in a magazine or television and you’ll read or hear: “Be whatever you decide. It’s beautiful. Amazing body makeovers! Try the winning plan. Her look says it all. Incredibly stylish. Irresistibly beautiful. Want younger looking skin in 14 days? Reduce lines nearly 50% in 2 weeks. Glamour Beauty: Expert tips and makeover tricks to get your best look now.” Our culture is obsessed with outward beauty. And all the fake magazine covers are impressed into our minds and we all think that is what matters…to look as beautiful as they do and feelings of worthlessness and unattractiveness have driven many to despair, eating disorders, and/or plastic surgery.
Again, the desire for outward beauty is not wrong or sinful. Some denominations have taken verses like these to the extreme saying women should not braid their hair or put on makeup, etc. My problem is where do you draw the line? Only deodorant? Should you comb your hair at all? So these women do not wear jewelry or makeup and wear long dresses all the time. They missed the point. The point is that as a woman of God who is submitting themselves under God and their husbands, is a woman who works on turning people’s hearts more than turning their heads by their outward beauty.
By the way, let me just say this here. Wives often complain about how when she and her husband were dating before marriage, how he would spend hours on the phone with them and now he does not talk to her anymore. I think there’s truth to that. Husbands must win and woo their wives after they have won and wooed her. However, let me speak up for the husbands. When you and your husband were dating, you spent some time looking good for him. You hogged up the bathroom and did you hair and nails twice and permed and straightened and whatever else. You wanted to look good for him. But what about now? Now he comes home and you’re still in your nightgown, sitting with your unshaved legs and nappy hair in a pony tail. No need to spend hours in the bathroom, but at least brush your teeth and comb you hair when he gets home you know? Do something!
But what is true beauty in God’s eyes? Let’s look at some of these key words here. Notice: “hidden person of the heart.” This is the real you on the inside, laid bare before God. It is the person God is making you to be as you surrender to Him more and more. It is the part of you the Holy Spirit wants access to and wants to manifest Christ through you. Peter this kind of cultivation is imperishable (same word used in 1 Pet. 1:4 talking about lasting, incorruptible inheritance that will never break down).
God says there is beauty that lasts without needing plastic surgery or botox. It is beauty that is just as beautiful when you are 17 or when you are 77. It never goes out of style or has to be replaced. In fact, a beauty that keeps growing, even as you grow older. Peter says it is a beauty of “a gentle and quiet spirit.” Gentle is the same word Jesus uses to describe Himself when He said He was gentle of heart (Matt. 11:29). It is the word translated “meek.” Meekness is not weakness. Meekness is power under God’s control. Pastor Cole notes, “A horse that is powerful but responsive to the slightest tug of its master is a “gentle” horse. So it refers to a wife who is not selfishly assertive, but rather who yields her rights without yielding her strength of character.”
Ladies, it is your whole being under God’s control. It is your lips under His control. It is your heart under His control. It is your attitudes, responses and reactions all under His control. What happens to a woman who cultivates this kind of character? Notice “quiet spirit.” Pastor Ray Pritchard says, “The word ‘quiet’ is an unusual Greek word that means tranquil or undisturbed, like the surface of a lake on a windless afternoon. It describes a heart that is not easily ruffled by the cares and concerns of life. If the husband is the head of the home, the wife is the heart of the home. She sets the emotional tone for the entire family. She sets the tone by her own spirit. Everyone else resonates to the note she sounds. If the home is peaceful, quiet, restful, it is because the wife has created that atmosphere. If the home is hectic, loud, disorganized and strident, it is also because the wife has set that tone by her own spirit.” While outer beauty tries hard to hide imperfections, inner beauty finds Jesus to remove imperfections.
This has nothing to do with personality and everything to do with character. You can be an extroverted, life of the party, go-getter, take charge woman and be under the moment-by-moment leading of the Spirit that creates an atmosphere of the presence of God around her where she goes. Notice there is no mention about trying to change your husband, but every emphasis is being a help for God to work on you and him and not a hindrance. This is very precious in God’s sight. Precious is used here again (1 Pet. 1:7, 19; 2:6) meaning “of great price, costly, valuable, very dear, highly esteemed, expensive.” This kind of character cannot be bought or sold. God values it greatly. In other words, God is the spectator, enabler and the One who receives glory from such a wife who cultivates character over countenance.
Charles William Eliot (1834-1926), former president of Harvard University, was born with a disfigurement that bothered him greatly. As a young man, he was told that surgeons could do nothing to remove it. Someone described that moment as “the dark hour of his soul.” Eliot’s mother gave him this helpful advice: “My son, it is not possible for you to get rid of that hardship. But it is possible for you, with God’s help, to grow a mind and soul so big that people will forget to look at your face.” I pray that for all us here, especially our sisters. May you grow in inward beauty so that long after your looks have faded, God’s work in you which you have been cultivating over the years will beautify you so that no matter how old you are, you are at your peak of beauty!
One more way you can grow in submission in marriage:
c) Living with faith over fear (1 Pet. 3:5-6)
Now if women tend to have an uncontrolled tongue and obsess over their looks, the third major area of struggle is living in fear. And it is fear that often destroys God helping a wife to be submissive. Look at the last phrase of 1 Pet. 3:6: “do not fear anything that is frightening.” This phrase suggests an emotional state that is easily rattled by problems and quickly alarmed by the “what ifs” of life: What if things don’t work out? What if we run out of money? What if my husband makes a bad decision? What if I lose my job? What if our children get sick? What if we can’t find a place to live? What if I can’t have children? What if I am a bad mother? Pastor Pritchard says, “You can give in to fear or you can have a gentle and quiet spirit, but you can’t have both at the same time. If you are not careful, those legitimate questions can become so huge in your mind that they completely destroy your gentle and quiet spirit.” Remember the opposite of trust is not mistrust, but control. And how many marriages struggle with wives trying to control everything from their husbands to situations except allowing God to control them?
Peter gives an illustration of a submissive wife, namely, Sarah, who he calls one of holy women who “hoped in God.” There is the theme of the letter: hope. Submission is putting your hope in God and not in your husband. It is future faith that God is working on you and your husband through you and in spite of you.
Personally I would not have picked Sarah here, but then again God did not pick me to write the Bible, so I’m ok with it. There is only one instance where we can see Sarah calling Abraham “lord” (Gen. 18:12). It is really just a term for respect for your husband. The angels came to Abraham to tell him that he will bear a son. Sarah was eavesdropping and she laughed and thought to herself, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Gen. 18:12). There we read Sarah’s thoughts toward her husband Abraham. She respects him even in her thoughts. She didn’t say, “I’m well past child-bearing years and the old man is really old too!” Interestingly, Sarah is known for her beauty (which led Abraham to lie a couple of times!), but Peter here focuses on her inner beauty of submission.
Yes, Abraham and Sarah were not perfect, but they had to learn about faith and hope and trusting God. In fact, Abraham is called the “father of faith.” He says they are good examples for us and as Sarah had to hope when things seemed impossible and needed faith when all circumstances in her life said, “Be fearful!” she persevered.
Notice in Sarah’s case as well that she ultimately had to trust that God was speaking through her husband, because eventually they did have Isaac. Deffinabugh observes, “How many times did Abraham come to his wife to tell her God had instructed him to do what appeared to be foolish? As far as I can tell, Sarah was never present when God gave Abraham his instructions (except this one time in Genesis 18). It could have been a most terrifying thing to have been married to Abraham and follow him without being frightened by any fear. But Sarah did submit to Abraham, first in her spirit, and then on a day-by-day basis. For this, she became an example of godly submission to all of us.”
Pastor Pritchard concludes with an interesting point: “When Sarah called him master she was simply respecting him as the head of the home and was indicating that God was free to speak to her through Abraham if that’s what God wanted to do. Here is a point of decision every Christian wife must eventually come to: Do I believe God is able to speak to me through my husband? If the answer is no, then submission is not possible. If the answer is yes, then you can become a true daughter of Sarah.”
I love what John Piper says about submission in marriage. He says submission is an attitude when a woman says, “I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don’t flourish when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.” But the attitude of Christian submission also says, “It grieves me when you venture into sinful acts and want to take me with you. You know I can’t do that. I have no desire to resist you. On the contrary, I flourish most when I can respond creatively and joyfully to your lead; but I can’t follow you into sin, as much as I love to honor your leadership in our marriage. Christ is my King.” And this will lead us to Peter’s address to husbands, which will look at Lord willing, next week.
Here Peter is addressing three areas where women (and I am generalizing) tend to struggle with: their uncontrolled tongue, their obsession over looks and their tendency to live in fear. The heart of the matter for you is the matter of the heart.
I want you to let the Word of God cut you open and lay you bare right now. Which of these three areas do you need to grow in submission? Whether you are single or married, what is the Lord saying to you? If you are married, please take time to go over this message later with your spouse. But for now, we must pray over these areas for a wife you know, as you hope to be a wife or if you are a wife. Let us ask the Lord to help us walk as Jesus walked, submitting Himself before the Father as He walked day by day.
Davids, P.H. (115).
Barclay, W. (218).
Davids, P.H.. (116).
Barclay, W. (219).
Deffinabugh, Bob. “A Word to Wives (1 Pet. 3:1-6).” http://bible.org/seriespage/word-wives-1-peter-31-6 accessed 27 July 2010.
Cole, Stephen. “Living with a difficult husband,” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/092092m.pdf accessed 26 July 2010.
Hurt, Bruce. “1 Pet. 3:1-4 Commentary,” http://preceptaustin.org/1peter_verse_by_verse_31-12.htm#3:1 accessed 30 July 2010.
MacArthur, J. (179).
Cole, Stephen. Ibid.
Pritchard, Ray, “Inner Beauty,” http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2005-02-06-Inner-Beauty/ accessed 20 July 2010.
Hurt, Bruce. Ibid.
Pritchard, Ray. Ibid.
Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (1990-1999).Minneapolis: Desiring God.