Day 18: “Wives, Submit to Your Husbands”

As promised, today we will be discussing the command for wives to submit to their husbands in 1 Peter 3.  This is a loaded topic, which is why I chose Cross-Reference Wednesday for this discussion.  We must interpret it in the context of Peter’s entire letter and the Bible as whole.  I challenge you to check out the Scripture references for yourself, although this is a lot of info at once, so take your time.

Back on Day 5, we established that Peter was writing to Christians who were undergoing intense persecution.  Let’s take a closer look at what that was like for them. Before they became Christians, they conducted themselves in lustful partying, drinking, and idolatry (1 Peter 1:14 and 4:3).  When they believed in Christ, they left their old ways behind to “be holy, as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15).

The non-believers around them thought it was strange that the Christians no longer wanted to party or drink with them (1 Peter 4:4).  They started speaking evil and spreading rumors about the Christians (2:12, 3:16).  While many people assume 1 Peter 5:8 is talking about Satan himself, the word “devil” means slanderer.  Peter could have been referring to one or more non-believers who were persecuting the Christians by spreading lies about their conduct, beliefs, and integrity. Throughout his letter, Peter says that the non-believers reviled the Christians. Likely, this negative perception was affecting their interactions with the government, with employers, and within their homes. For instance, imagine this scenario playing out in the workplace:

“Oh you think you’re better than us now because you’re a Christian?  Well if you don’t want to party with us tonight, you can just stay late and clean out all the donkey stables.”

Or a non-believing husband to his wife:

“If you think you’re so much better than me, then why did I hear you gossiping about Mary last week?”

Peter gave his readers a three-fold strategy for reacting to the reviling and slander of non-believers.  First, they were to continue in their holy conduct and not return to their old ways.  1 Peter 2:1 encourages them to lay aside all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking.  By persevering in their good works, in time they would prove the slanderers wrong.

Second, they were to follow the example of Christ, who, “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten.” (1 Peter 2:23).  Peter applies this call to suffer in three specific social areas, the first two of which are found in chapter 2:

  • 2:13-17— So the government is oppressing you?  Submit to their authority.
  • 2:18-25–Your master just assigned you to manure duty again?  Do it cheerfully.

Then he continues by saying, “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (the word “fear” in 3:2 has the connotation of reverence here as in 2:18).  If their unbelieving husbands reviled their faith, slandered them, and treated them harshly, they were to respond with kindness, gentleness, and longsuffering, while maintaining an attitude of honor, respect, and deference.

It is important to note what Peter was and was not saying.  He was addressing a specific situation:  an unbelieving husband persecuting a Christian wife because of her faith.  In this situation, he asked the wife to suffer willingly, responding to his reviling with meekness for the specific purpose that he might also come to believe.  Peter was not saying:

  1. That all women should submit to all men (“wives, submit to your own husbands”)
  2. That wives should always submit to their husbands, even if they tell them to sin (Peter’s own behavior shows that when it comes down to obeying a human or doing what God commands, we always choose God–see Acts 5:27-29)
  3. That wives with abusive husbands should continue to stay with them. Regrettably, Christians have a bad record of misusing this passage against women who are being abused by their husbands.  That is bad interpretation and also sinfully disregards the responsibility that we have to help the oppressed and confront evil: (Isaiah 1:17;  Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1).

Finally, the third prong of Peter’s strategy for dealing with persecution was to entrust themselves to “Him who judges righteously,” (1 Peter 2:23; 4:19), trusting that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12)  They could be reassured that in time, God would punish their persecutors (1 Peter 4:5).

Submission: “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”  Note the word voluntary!  Submission is not something that can be taken by force.  It can only be offered by the one doing the submitting.  Peter was asking them to voluntarily give up their earthly rights for a time because their inheritance in Christ was worth so much more in eternity.

By returning good for evil, the Christians would be acting in a way that would surprise their persecutors.  When their harshness was repeatedly met with patience and gentleness, they would be forced to ask, “what has gotten into you?!?” (1 Peter 3:15)  Which is why Peter told his readers to be ready to explain the reason for the incredible hope that was in them.  Through this, God would be glorified.  The road to glory, for both Christ and the believer, goes through suffering (1 Peter 4:13).

Peter was addressing a specific situation (persecution) with a specific strategy (submission) to a specific end (making new believers and bringing glory to God).  However, this does not mean we are off the hook as far wives submitting to husbands, because there are other places in Scripture that give more general commands as to what a godly marriage looks like, and it includes submission.

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul says that marriage is a reflection of the relationship between the Christ and the Church.  Christ laid down His life, in selfless, sacrificial love, to save His bride, the Church.  The Church responds in obedience to Christ.  Therefore, husbands should be willing to lay down their lives in selfish, sacrificial leadership that has their wives’ own best interest at heart.  Wives, in turn, respect and follow their husbands.  Paul’s argument is not based on cultural, time-limited household codes, but based on the timeless truth of Christ’s relationship to the church.  Therefore, I believe that this is still relevant to modern-day marriages and is the design that God intended.  While this design doesn’t always work because of our own sinful nature, that does not mean the design is flawed, only the execution.  Personally, I find it liberating to submit to someone who has my best interests at heart.

Other faithful Christians disagree that the male headship/ female submission model is still relevant today.  In fact, tomorrow I will feature a post by someone I respect who holds the egalitarian perspective.  So keeping in mind that we will hear from another viewpoint tomorrow, what do you think?

How does the context of 1 Peter affect your interpretation of 1 Peter 3:1-2?

How does the rest of Scripture shape our understanding?

How does this work out in your own marriage or in other marriages you observe?

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