The Gospel Witness of Holy Homes
Passage: 1 Peter 3:1–3:7
The Gospel of Holy Homes
In the last 50 years, few issues within the church have generated as much material and controversy as the question of what the Bible teaches about men’s and women’s roles. Whether the focus is the church or the home, the issue of gender relationship is a hot-button topic within Christianity. Go to any gathering of Christians and raise the question of what the Bible says about gender, and you’ll at least get a conversation, if not an outright argument. The controversy has grown to such proportions that it even has its own title now – the Gender Debate.
For some people, the debate stems from questions about biblical interpretation and theological principles. They have real questions about what words and phrases in the Bible might mean. For others, the debate centers on how to apply what the Bible teaches. They are not sure how to live out what the Bible says. And for some, the debate exists because of a personal history of painful experiences. They have been hurt by a misapplication of biblical truth, and that makes passages like this one extremely difficult to read. I won’t pretend to understand all those reasons or all of the possible experiences with this issue. I cannot possibly do that. What I say this morning is not everything that can or even should be said.
My task this morning is to speak clearly on what Scripture teaches regarding a wife’s responsibility to her husband and a husband’s responsibility to his wife. I am fully aware that much of what I will say this morning is out of step with cultural norms. But as Peter says in this letter, we are aliens and exiles on earth. We are sojourners and strangers. How we live as God’s people should look different from the culture, because this world is not our home. And that difference should be manifested particularly in our marriages.
But I don’t just want to speak clearly on this issue. I also aim to speak compellingly. If God has told us how we should relate to one another as husbands and wives, then it must be for our good! This passage is not just truth to be tolerated; it is truth to be celebrated and embraced and cherished, because it is given to us by our good and gracious Heavenly Father. He means these passages for our good. Let’s not just hope for clarity; let’s also pray for joy and encouragement as we hear what God calls us to as husbands and wives.
Here at the outset, we should note the two truths that bookend the text, in v1 and v7. V1 affirms that wives are to submit to their own husbands. This reminds us that God has established a relationship of authority and submission between husbands and wives, where the husband lovingly leads and the wife joyfully follows his leadership. That truth is affirmed in v1. V7 affirms that wives are the spiritual equals of their husbands. In v7, Peter tells husbands that their wives are heirs with them of the grace of life. His point is that their wives possess the same spiritual status as they do. Both men and women are made in God’s image. Both men and women possess equal value and dignity before the Lord. Both men and women participate in the greatest reality in the universe – God’s redeeming love and saving grace given to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That truth is affirmed in v7. We have two truths, positioned like bookends at the beginning and end of our passage. In order for us, then, to think properly about husbands and wives, we must keep both truths firmly in balance. We cannot fall off into the ditch on one side or the other.
Unfortunately, with this issue, that sort balance is not always maintained. Some people deny v7. They deny the spiritual equality of men and women in order to advocate a servile attitude of inferiority that demeans and, at times, harms women. That is ditch to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, some people deny v1. They deny that God has established an order of authority and submission within marriage in order to advocate no functional difference between husbands and wives. When that happens, we lose one of the unique testimonies that God has established for his people – that the marriage relationship points beyond itself to the relationship of Christ and the church.
As a church that seeks to be Word-Driven, we want to avoid both of these ditches. We want to affirm and value the equal status that men and women share as those made in God’s image. We want to celebrate all the ways that God has gifted women for service in his church, in this world, and in their homes. At the same time, we want to affirm and value the order God has established for the home and for the church. We affirm and celebrate the truth that husbands are to faithfully lead, and that wives are to joyfully submit to their husbands’ leadership. By God’s grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we want to affirm and live by both of those truths.
As we work through this passage, keep those two truths firmly in mind. Hear what I am saying this morning, even the hard things, and remember that we affirm both truths, because we are striving to be a biblical, Word-Driven church. By God’s grace, we are trying to avoid both of those harmful ditches.
Now, we’re ready to address our passage. If you remember, Peter is in the midst of discussing what difference the gospel makes in society, and he now addresses the home. In vv1-6, Peter’s teaching centers on a wife’s calling to submit to her own husband. As we look at these verses, we will note three truths regarding a wife’s submission. Then, in v7, Peter’s teaching centers on a husband’s weighty calling to honor his wife. My plan this morning is to spend our time considering these two sections of teaching. Then, at the end of the message, we will consider how Peter’s instructions help our homes witness to the gospel. That’s where we are going. Let’s begin with vv1-6, and three truths regarding a wife’s submission to her husband.
The Power of a Wife’s Submission
First, we should note the power of a wife’s submission. Let’s read vv1-2. “Likewise, wives, be subject to your 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.” As has been the case for the last few weeks, Peter’s command focuses on submission. Wives are to submit to their own husbands. And note that wives are to submit to their own husbands. Peter is not saying that every woman should submit to every man; that’s not his point. His point has to do with particular marriages, particular families.
What does submission look like practically? It means that a wife should affirm her husband’s leadership within the family. With her words and actions, she should encourage her husband’s leadership. It means that a wife should support her husband’s leadership and help carry it out through as best as she can. She should use her gifts and the wisdom God has given her to help him as he leads the family. This means her husband should depend on her and value what she brings to the relationship. Submission doesn’t mean the wife is silent and just lets her husband do whatever seems best to him. She possesses gifts and insight from the Lord as well, and she should respectfully use those gifts to help her husband carry out his responsibility. But also, at the end of the day, submission means a wife should acknowledge that the burden of leadership for the family does rest on her husband. God will hold him accountable for the direction of the home, and she should affirm and support his responsibility in that.
Now, according to Scripture, this submission is expected of all Christian wives. This is because God established at creation a relationship of authority and submission between husbands and wives. This is why we read from Genesis 2 earlier in the service, in order to remind ourselves of this fact. Before the fall, before sin corrupted the world and our relationships, God established Adam as the head and authority for Eve. And this was part of God’s good design for his creation. That creation design is then repeated throughout the NT, in passages like this one, Colossians 3, and Ephesians 5. This is something God calls all wives to.
But, in the context of our passage, Peter addresses a specific situation – wives who were married to unbelieving husbands. You can see this specific focus in v1. Peter says that wives should submit to their own husbands so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word. Evidently, some women in these churches were married to unbelievers, and Peter wants to make clear that those wives should still submit to their husbands, even if they are unbelievers.
But note carefully the purpose Peter gives for submission in this context. The purpose is that some husbands might be drawn to the gospel by their wives’ godly attitudes. This is where we see the power of submission. Look closely at Peter’s point. He is saying that as these unbelieving husbands observe their wives conduct, some of them will be won to the gospel, even though in the past they wanted nothing to do with the gospel. That’s some unbelievable power at work in this thing called submission, powerful enough to be used by God to move hearts from unbelief to belief. We shouldn’t underestimate the difficulty facing some of these Christian wives. They are married to unbelieving husbands who do not obey the word. It seems that these men have heard the gospel but refused to believe. They may even have grown tired of hearing their wives speak of Christ, so much so that the wife can’t speak as freely as she would like. This would seem like a helpless, even powerless situation. But Peter says that is not the case. The wife can still witness to Christ through the powerful testimony of submission to her husband.
Contrary to what we might think, submission is not a state of weakness. Submission displays a peculiar kind of power and influence. It’s not worldly power or dominating power, but a humble, Christ-like power that is winsome and able to influence others. As these women submit to their unbelieving husbands, God will at times use that submission to powerfully work in their husbands’ lives. And if that is true of unbelieving husbands who do not possess the Holy Spirit, imagine how God might use a wife’s submission within a Christian marriage to bring about that which is good, pleasing, and honoring to him.
The Beauty of a Wife’s Submission
That brings us to our second truth – the beauty of a wife’s submission. In vv3-4, Peter explains more clearly the idea introduced in vv1-2. His point here is that submission displays a unique kind of beauty. Listen to Peter’s words: “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
Peter makes his point by contrasting outer beauty that fades with inner beauty that lasts. In v3, he focuses on the outer, saying that a woman’s beauty shouldn’t consist merely of external things. Some people assume that Peter is outlawing things like jewelry and specific hairstyles. We know that can’t be the case because he also says something against clothing, and no one would think Peter outlaws wearing clothes! Rather, Peter is simply giving examples of external things that don’t endure over time. His point is don’t pursue that kind of beauty. Don’t focus on the merely external.
Then, in v4, Peter gives the positive side of the contrast. He says let your adornment be the hidden person of the heart. Most likely, Peter has in mind a woman’s character, who she is on the inside that is then evidenced outwardly in her actions. This inner character is made visible in a gentle and quiet spirit. Those terms gentle and quiet spirit are used elsewhere in Scripture to describe all Christians, and they are even used to describe Jesus himself. Peter doesn’t have in mind some uniquely feminine set of virtues. He’s not saying that women have to be literally quiet. Rather, his focus is godly behavior that demonstrates the submissive attitude of v1. Instead of showing the world things like gold jewelry and an extravagant wardrobe, showcase for the world an attitude that trusts God in all things.
Peter then closes v4 with some very powerful words. He says this inner beauty “in God’s sight is very precious.” When God looks on a woman’s gentle and quiet spirit, he sees a lasting beauty that carries great worth and value in his kingdom. In other words, it is pleasing to him, and that’s really the important point in these verses. This kind of gentle and quiet spirit is pleasing to God, and for that reason, Christian wives should seek to submit to their husbands. It’s the desire to please God that ultimately moves her to follow her husband’s leadership.
The Strength of a Wife’s Submission
Third truth – we should note the strength of a wife’s submission. Look at vv5-6: “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” In these verses, Peter gives the reason why a wife should pursue a submissive attitude expressed in a gentle and quiet spirit. Why? Because this is how women of God in the past adorned themselves, not with external things, but by submitting to their husbands. Peter even gives a specific example – Sara and her relationship with Abraham. Peter’s point is that Sara respected Abraham and submitted to his leadership. That language of obeyed him and called him lord, that might lead some people to assume that Peter viewed Abraham as Sara’s master or something like that. But that is hardly the point of the passage. Peter is referencing a specific incident from Sara’s life, found in Genesis 18. It was the moment when God revealed that Sara would have a son with Abraham. Now, remember, Abraham and Sara are pretty old at this point, and Sara knows that. She even laughs to herself at the thought of having a child with Abraham, because the guy is so old! But even in that moment, even when she is thinking of Abraham as an old man, she still refers to him with a term of respect. That’s Peter’s point here, not that Abraham was Sara’s master, but that Sara’s regular attitude toward Abraham was one of respect and honor, even in situations where Abraham might not seem that honorable or worthy of respect.
Peter says that Christian wives become like Sara as they do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Peter has in mind wives who submit to their husbands, but who also are prepared to do good in God’s eyes, even if their husbands object. Remember, some of these women are married to unbelievers, who might try to lead them into sin or away from Christ. Peter says in those moments, wives become like Sara if they do what is right and good in God’s eyes and do not fear what might be frightening. In other words, they do not fear a husband who is upset with them, but rather trust that God sees and will honor their allegiance to Christ.
At this point, we get a glimpse of the difficulty of submission. It is hard; it takes strength. There might be frightening times; there might be times of heartache. Where does the strength for those times come from? Peter tells us in v5. It comes from hope in God. It is the wife’s hope in God that is the strength of her submission. As she hopes in God, she becomes like the holy women of the past, who hoped in God as well. As she hopes in God, she finds strength to pursue that inner beauty that never fades and that God finds very precious. As she hopes in God, she is able to do good and not fear anything that is frightening.
This hope in God is the spring from which everything else flows for the Christian wife. Her strength does not come from herself. She doesn’t hope in her own abilities. She doesn’t hope in her husband, or even in the fact that he might change and become a Christian or a better leader. Catch this – her hope is in God. That is what enables her day after day, to wake up and give herself to the hard, humble work of submitting to her own husband. It is her hope that God sees her life, that he knows her days, that he knows her limits, and that as a good Father, he is working what is good and best for her. She hopes in the promises of God given to her in Christ. Her eyes are firmly fixed on Jesus, who also humbly lived a life of submission to his Father’s authority. In a similar way, a Christian wife can entrust her life to God and submit herself to her husband because she is confident that God’s ways are good, not just in general, but good for her and her life and her marriage. The strength of her submission is not in herself or her husband, but in God. And what a commendable kind of strength it is.
From these verses, we have seen the power, the beauty, and the strength of a wife’s submission. In v7, Peter turns his attention to husbands. What does God expect from husbands as it relates to their wives? Peter tells us in v7. He 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.” Peter’s instructions to husbands are short but powerful – honor her.
Specifically, Peter says that husbands should live with their wives in an understanding way. We could also translate that phrase according to knowledge. The idea at this point is that husbands should show understanding and consideration as they live with their wives. How are husbands to do this? Peter tells us when he says “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” That’s an interesting phrase – weaker vessel – and it has caused some controversy throughout history. I think it is actually a pretty straightforward point. By weaker, Peter has in mind the physical difference that exists between most men and women. Generally speaking, men are stronger physically than women and more physically imposing. I think that is what Peter has in mind when he says weaker vessel.
What does it mean to show honor to your wife as the weaker vessel? I think there are two answers to that question. First, it means that a husband must not domineer his wife. Because a husband is generally physically stronger than his wife, there is a way of leadership that takes advantage of that strength. There is a way of using your physical status, your words, your attitude to impose your will and your way. Now, I’m not talking about abusive behavior, which the Bible considers an abomination. That is clearly out of bounds and not what Peter is talking about. Rather, Peter is addressing a way of speaking to or relating to your wife that intimidates her. Think raised voice, imposing physical presence. Peter says husbands should not live with their wives in that way. Show honor to her as the weaker vessel by being considerate, tender, compassionate, and thoughtful. Never intimidate, impose, or frighten.
Second, it means a husband must not demean his wife. There is this temptation for a husband to assume that because he is the leader in his home, he has no need for wife’s gifts or abilities or insight. Such an assumption is utterly foolish, and not a little prideful. One way that you honor your wife is by valuing her, her gifts, her perspective, and her abilities.
Peter goes on to say that a husband should show this honor to his wife because God honors her as an heir of the grace of life. Your wife has the same spiritual inheritance as you, and she has equal dignity within the kingdom of God. Therefore, husbands should honor their wives, since they have received the same spiritual inheritance in God’s kingdom.
Peter then closes out v7 with a reminder of the weightiness of a husband’s calling. This final phrase tells us what will result from husbands honoring their wives. The result is that their prayers will not be hindered. Now, the implication is that if a husband doesn’t live with his wife in an understanding way, then his prayers will be hindered. That’s a strong word, hindered. It means ineffective or not listened to. I don’t know exactly what all that means, but I do know that is a reminder of the weightiness of a husband’s calling. If a husband does not live with his wife in an understanding way, in some sense, his prayers are ineffective. Husbands, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my prayers to be ineffective. Leading a family is difficult, and I need the Lord’s help. I want the Father to hear my prayers. This phrase reminds me of the seriousness of my responsibilities. It reminds me of what is at stake in how I relate to my wife, whom God has given to me as a good and precious gift.
Now, we come to the big question hanging out there – how do we put all this into practice? That’s a hard question. Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that a wife’s submission and a husband’s leadership might look different in different families. I am wary of giving too many specific applications because I don’t want to create unbiblical boxes that people try to fit themselves into. Maybe a good place to start would be a conversation around this topic. Husbands, let me encourage you. Take the initiative and ask your wife if she feels like you lead her with understanding. Ask her if she feels honored by you. You might still disagree with some of the things she says, but more than likely, you’ll learn something about how you can better lead and honor her. But none of that will happen without a conversation. Take the initiative, and ask those hard but good questions.
Wives, as your husbands take that step of leadership, why not return the favor and ask him some similar questions. Ask if he feels like you honor and affirm his leadership. Ask if he feels like you work with him or against him in leading your home. Ask him how you can better submit to and support him as the leader in your family. But let me emphasize again – husbands, take the lead in this. Initiate, for the good of your wife and family.
As we come to a close this morning, it might seem strange that Peter gives so much time and attention to families and homes. This letter is written to suffering Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Why take valuable space in the letter to address this topic? The answer goes back to v12 of chapter 2. Holy homes are part of the way that unbelievers will see our good deeds and give glory to God by coming to faith in Christ. In his wisdom, God has established the home as one of the places to display the truth and power of his gospel.
We must remember at this point that one of the tragic effects of the fall was growing conflict and strife between husband and wife. Remember in Genesis 3, when God is telling the man and woman about the consequences for their sin? He says to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” That’s a warning of conflict, strife between spouses. And we see this conflict in marriages throughout our society. But even more painfully, we sometimes experience it in our own lives, in our own homes. But God intends for the gospel to overcome that conflict, to heal that strife. As husbands and wives embrace the power of the gospel, God works in them the things that please him. He works so that they might live with one according to his good and wise plan. As this happens, it shows to the world the power of the gospel. It shows that the curse of Genesis 3 is coming undone, that conflict is replaced with harmony, that strife is replaced with love, that hostility is replaced with honor.
That is why Peter spends this valuable space addressing wives and husbands, because holy homes witness to the gospel. Marriage is one of the arenas where God intends to display to the world the power of Christ crucified and resurrected. Submission, leadership, honor – all these things are about Christ and his gospel. All these things about how he laid down his life for his people. May God be pleased to use the marriages in this church to spread a knowledge of Christ among those who have yet to believe.